After back-to-back 0-4 games, Jeff McNeil had a two-hit game on 8/5, which included a home run. It was the first time since 6/11 that McNeil homered. Thru his first 443 PA, McNeil had just 3 HR and his ISO stood at a woeful .073 for the season. For anyone who watched the games, the reason was painfully clear. Pitchers were pounding McNeil inside and he continually beat those pitches into the ground, grounding out to the first or second baseman.

We’re wired to look for easy answers to make sense of a complex world. The conventional wisdom became that McNeil was struggling due to MLB eliminating extreme shifts. That was taken to a ridiculous length on Thursday night’s Fox broadcast, when the play-by-play announcer claimed that he knew that McNeil was going to have a poor year because they banned shifts. It was the single dumbest thing said in an annoying telecast, one where nearly everything the Mets did was secondary to whatever the Phillies did on the same play, regardless if it made sense to frame the play that way or not.

Back on 7/23, there was a note about McNeil’s weak contact to the right side. Eliminating his strikeouts, McNeil had 218 times where he made contact and an out and 77 times those were balls hit to either the first or second baseman. That means that 35.3% of the time he made contact and an out, he wasn’t getting the ball out of the infield on the right side.

Since that homer in early August, McNeil has been on fire. In his last 188 PA, McNeil has a .316/.358/.512 line, with 18 XBH, including 7 HR. McNeil has always run an elevated BABIP, with a lifetime .322 mark in the category. In this recent hot streak, McNeil has a .320 BABIP. This stretch isn’t defined by the hits falling in. Rather, it’s one where he’s back to career levels – this latest stretch has his season-long BABIP at .290 – and he’s hitting for power like he hasn’t done since late 2019.

In this latest stretch, McNeil has hit the ball and made an out 120 times. Of those, 14 have been hit to the first baseman and 17 to the second baseman. That’s 25.8% of the time, or a drop of 9.5% from what he was doing earlier in the season. That seems notable.

McNeil is actually pulling the ball a hair less now compared to what he was doing earlier in the season. To start the year, he had a 41.8 pull percentage and since 8/5, that number stands at 41.1%. Unfortunately, we don’t have splits upon splits, so we can’t tell how many of those pulled balls were grounders, compared to ones in the air. But given that we know that McNeil has made outs to the pull side 9.5% fewer, it stands to reason that he’s hit more of his pulled balls into the air.

Now let’s look at his 18 XBH since 8/5:

8/5 – HR to RF
8/9 – HR to RC
8/12 – 2B to RF
8/17 – 2B to RF
8/18 – HR to RF
8/19 – 2B to 1B – yep, that’s how B-R has it
8/25 – 2B to RF
8/30 – 2B to RF
9/2 – 2B to RF
9/2 – 3B to RF
9/3 – HR to RF
9/11 – HR to RF
9/14 – HR to RF
9/15 – 2B to RF
9/18 – HR to RF
9/19 – 2B to CF
9/21 – 2B to LF
9/21 – 3B to RF

The breakdown is as follows: 14 to RF, 1 to RC, 1 to 1B, 1 to CF, 1 to LF. The overwhelming majority of his damage has come on balls he’s pulled in the air. This shouldn’t be surprising, as most players have power to the pull side. But with McNeil, there’s always the chance that he’s hit the opposite field gap or a flair down the LF line. And there’s only been one ball out of 18 here hit like that.

McNeil’s not selling out to pull the ball. We already noted his pull percentage and his percentage of balls hit to the opposite field has had a slight increase here during his latest stretch. His first 443 PA, he hit the ball the other way 25.3% of the time. In his last 188 PA, McNeil has hit to the opposite field 27.2% of the time.

One last thing to mention. McNeil does not have great power and most of his batted balls fall into the “medium” bucket. But his Hard-Hit% has risen from 19.9% to 24.1% here in his last 188 PA. You don’t have to be an exit velocity king to hit a good number of home runs. If McNeil carried over his current approach over a full season, there’s no reason he couldn’t hit 25 HR despite below-average exit velocities.

The hitter he’s been since early August is the one we want McNeil to be – a .300 hitter with power. He’s done that by driving balls to the pull side when the opportunity presents itself. McNeil is not forcing the action and he’s still more than happy to go the other way when pitchers give him outside pitches. It’s unfortunate that it took McNeil four months to figure things out. Still, he’s going to finish the year with over 200 PA being the type of hitter he should be.

12 comments on “It took four months but Jeff McNeil has become the hitter he should be

  • TexasGusCC

    Tommy Pham was right. It took McNeil quite a while to wake up, for whatever reason. I’ll leave the rest of the team out of this since Nimmo, Lindor and Alonso have already been exonerated.

  • TexasGusCC

    Nice job on this Brian. Very good and telling information. Thank you for this.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the kind words, Gus!

      I’m still not sure how to take Pham’s comments. I try not to shoot the messenger. But I’m also leery of people who demand some arbitrary level of commitment. I detest the “if you’re not early, you’re late” mentality. Maybe Pham needs to work at Level X to be an MLB player. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to work at that same level. I’m a big believer in work smarter, not harder.

      Did McNeil loaf early in the year? I don’t pretend to know the answer. I just find it odd that no one even suggested that before Pham. There have been a bunch of people writing about why the 2023 Mets failed to meet expectations, many of those with access to the locker room. It just seems to me that if people were loafing, that story would have surfaced by now.

      If Scherzer or Verlander thought someone wasn’t giving enough – don’t you think they would have said something? Scherzer has certainly said a lot of things and that wasn’t one of them.

      I guess at the end of the day, I’d like to see other people corroborate it before I take Pham’s word as gospel. And are we sure he wasn’t talking about Marte?

      • Mike W

        McNeil had a long terrible streak and being in that streak, he had to be putting himself under immense pressure. Everybody deals with pressure differently. Who is Pham to judge anyone?

  • Woodrow

    So you wouldn’t trade McNeil for a solid #2 type starter?

    • Brian Joura

      I have no idea where this is coming from or why.

      FWIW – I don’t view anyone as untouchable. I’ve long advocated for the Mets to shop Alonso to see what his trade value is. Doesn’t mean I think they should trade him But every player has a value and you never know when some other club values one of your players higher than you do.

      McNeil had a bad year in 2021 and this year was disappointing for 2/3 of the season here in 2023. Still, if you add up what he’s done the past three years – McNeil has a total of 9.4 fWAR.

      There are 149 SP who have thrown at least 200 IP since 2021. Of the pitchers ranked 31-60 in fWAR, the theoretical SP2s, the vast majority of them I would not trade for McNeil – somewhere around 22-25 of them I would not pull the trigger on.

      Merrill Kelly, Chris Bassitt, Zach Eflin, Kyle Gibson, Tyler Anderson, Tyler Mahle, Taijuan Walker – no thanks, I’ll keep McNeil.

  • T.J.

    McNeil has looked really bad at the plate for long stretches 2 of the last 3 seasons. Regardless, he is a player I’d keep. His multi-position versatility combine with the extended runs of quality offense (including a battling title) can help this team for 2-3 more delayed-prime seasons. As stated, any player is tradeable, but barring a great return, he’s a keeper. Just move him lower in the batting order if he nosedives into a prolonged funk.

  • Woodrow

    Like Pablo Lopez for arraiz,twins,marlins

    • Mike W

      Woodrow, I was thinking the same thing. What is more valuable to the Mets now? McNeil or a good starter? I think the starter is, but it depends on which one. Maybe there is a blockbuster trade with McNeil and a prospect for who? It depends on what free agents they sign. All I know is that they need another big bat and McNeil isn’t a big bat. Do they roll the dice with Vientos as a DH next year or do they sign a veteran? Or does Cohen make a run at Ohtani? I’d rather have Bellinger and Yamamoto than Ohtani

  • Mike W

    The offseason may be one for the ages. McNeil’s value will be up and Stearns is going to make some moves. A team or two may covet McNeil. Who could use a player like him? A lot of teams. We have Mauricio and then Acuna to play second and maybe they sign Bellinger as a power bat to play center and move Nimmo to left.

    I think the Mets would move McNeil before they move some of their top prospects.

  • Metsense

    McNeil has turned his season around. He is hitting like his 2019 season when he was 27. It will be hard, at 32, to duplicate that production for a full year. This was a good and informative article.

  • T.J.

    I’m not sure the marketplace would trade a controllable #2 starter for one year of Pete Alonso, no less a few years of a somewhat costly 32 year old Jeff McNeil. Additionally, Mauricio has had a nice start, but so did Baty. Acuna hasn’t yet aced AA no less AAA and get to the majors. My gut is that McNeil will have more value to the Mets in 2024-5 than he can bring back in a trade, but they should certainly listen and set the price as a strong return if others are interested.

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