There were several articles written last year discussing Jeff McNeil‘s results when pulling the ball. If you don’t want to click on the links, the main takeaway is that the shift didn’t affect McNeil as much as conventional wisdom would have you believe, at least from a raw number of balls hit to the pull side, straight away and opposite field.

Instead, what happened is that pitchers were busting McNeil inside and too many of his pulled balls were resulting in ground outs to the right side. But then he started to pull the ball in the air and his season turned around.

Let’s start off with some numbers from Baseball-Reference. For his career, B-R has McNeil with the following numbers:

662 – Pulled (31.2%) – 1.072 OPS
1,086 – Up the Middle (51.1%) — .764 OPS
377 – Opposite Field (17.8%) — .677 OPS

Now, here are his numbers in 2022, when he won the batting title:

140 – Pull (29.7%) – 1.204 OPS
238 – Middle (50.4%) — .802 OPS
94 – Opposite (19.9%) — .610 OPS

Finally, here are his numbers in 2023:

170 – Pulled (32.6%) — .952 OPS
263 – Middle (50.4%) — .604 OPS
89 – Opposite (17.0%) — .694 OPS

We see that McNeil’s numbers got worse on balls hit up the middle and pulled balls last year, compared to 2022. His production to the opposite field went up. His slash line on pulled balls last year was: .333/.333/.619

Now let’s switch over to Statcast numbers. We do this because we can get deeper into the individual numbers. Now, it gets a tiny bit confusing because the numbers don’t match up exactly. But don’t let that throw you too much. Statcast shows McNeil with 197 pulled balls last year, compared to the 170 of B-R. My best guess is that the source for B-R has a slightly different grid for what constitutes a pulled ball.

McNeil turned things around last year in August and we’re going to use 8/5 as the start of his resurgence. From that part until the end of the year, Statcast has McNeil with 65 pulled balls. Here’s how he did when he pulled the ball in that span:

12 singles
6 doubles
2 triples
7 homers
1 sac hit

That’s a .422/.422/.672 or a 1.094 OPS

Furthermore, Statcast shows the pull numbers for McNeil all year. He had 194 ABs, 38 singles, 14 doubles, 4 triples and 10 homers. If we subtract out what he did from 8/5 to the end of the year, we come out with: 130 ABs, 26 singles, 8 doubles, 2 triples and 3 homers. That makes his triple slash line – .300/.300/.362 or a .662 OPS.

McNeil pulled 34 balls last year that traveled at least 300 feet. Exactly half of those occurred from 8/5 to the end of the season. He was 12-17 on those pulled balls, for a .706 AVG and a 2.294 SLG. The ones he pulled thru 8/4, McNeil was 6-17, for a .353 AVG and a 1.118 SLG.

So, 17 of 65 pulled balls went at least 300 feet from 8/5 to the end of the season, or 26.2%. Contrast that to the first two-thirds of the season, when 17 of his 132 pulls traveled that far, or 12.9%.

Good things happened to McNeil when he pulled the ball to the outfield from August 5 until the end of the year in 2023. It’s not enough for McNeil to just pull the ball. His pull percentage was almost identical in his strong close to the season as it was in the first two-thirds of the year when he floundered. The big difference is that his pull percentage to reasonably deep in the outfield doubled at the end of the season.

So, when you’re watching the games from now on, keep a mental note on how many balls McNeil pulls to the outfield. We can see from B-R that his overall pull percentage has been fairly constant throughout his career and both in 2022 and 2023. But when we drill down deeper with Statcast, we see his struggles early in 2023 came due to a lack of pulled balls to the outfield. And when his outfield pull percentage went up, so did his success.

5 comments on “Why we want Jeff McNeil to pull the ball in the air to the outfield

  • NYM6986

    This would seem to be a prime example of the need for a good hitting coach and analytical data. Seems McNeil often went the other way to beat the shift before it was outlawed, but clearly his strength is to pull and put the ball in the air. Seems that’s what resurrected Daniel Murphy during the 2015 stretch run. Now without that third fielder on the right side, he should be taking advantage of this obvious skill. Hitting is also contagious, at least anecdotally. It would be interesting to see if other players on the team are more productive pulling the ball and to direct them to take steps to improve that stat.

    • Brian Joura

      The overwhelming majority of hitters do better when they pull the ball. For the most part, it’s a matter if they do a little better or a lot better. And McNeil does a lot better.

      We don’t want McNeil trying to pull every ball. Two strikes, ball on the outside corner – go with the pitch. It’s just that either early or when he’s ahead in the count, he should be hunting pitches he can pull in the air.

  • Metsense

    If McNeil consciously looks for pitches to pull in the air then he would be an ideal three hole hitter and an all-star second baseman instead of a good six hole batter. Maybe he can’t consistently do that. You are research in the past tells us that players have a six week hot streak. Last year McNeil had a 8 week hot streak at the end of the season. Your excellent research unlocks the door for McNeil’s success. I hope he finds the key.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I just looked up Daniel Murphy in 2016, when he slashed .347/.390/.595 and finished second in the MVP vote. He had the same exact number of pulled balls as McNeil had last year – 197. The difference was that Murphy had 49 of those go at least 300 feet.

      In 2015, the first year we have the Statcast data, Murphy had 42 pulled balls that went at least 300 feet. But that includes the playoffs. During the regular season, Murphy had 36 pulled balls with that distance. Like McNeil last year, Murphy turned things on the last two months of the season. Here’s how he did:

      Beginning of season thru 8/1 — 98 pulls, 16 balls 300 feet or more — 16.3%
      8/2 to end of season — 76 pulls, 20 balls 300 feet or more — 26.3%
      Playoffs — 17 pulls, 6 balls 300 feet or more — 35.3%

      Murphy went 5-6 on those balls in the playoffs, with all five being homers.

  • TexasGusCC

    Great job Brian. Good stuff.

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