Digging Deep: The Art of Jeff McNeil’s Hitting

The power of putting the ball in play. It’s becoming more and more of a lost art in baseball, but the Mets have a player who thrives at this. Jeff McNeil is an “old school” type hitter, which is very valuable between a lot of power bats the Mets have. However, McNeil is a typical player were an eye test is way more important than statcast numbers, hence this article.

Imagine this: You are a fan of an American League team. Your team has just traded for Jeff McNeil and you think “Let’s take a look at his Statcast Numbers”. You open the page and you see this.

Baseball Savant

McNeil doesn’t hit the ball hard, doesn’t barrel up baseballs, has a below average expected slugging percentage and is a below average defender. The only thing he thrives at is not striking out and having a solid batting average. Are we back in the 80’s? That isn’t as important to judge a player’s value right?

Most of the time I would say yuck when watching these numbers. It’s not like it was just because of a shortened 2020 season. In 2019, he was better but still below league average in all those categories besides expected Slugging percentage. It wouldn’t wow you as a fan when you haven’t watched McNeil a lot.

Baseball Savant

However, looking at his expected slash lines over the years, it shows it’s a ongoing theme in McNeil’s game. It is so drastic, that we can expect McNeil to have a lower expected slash lines than his overall slash lines for the foreseeable future.

Overall slash lines (Baseball Savant)
Expected slash line (Baseball Savant)

One thing I noticed is that teams have shifted more against McNeil. McNeil came up in 2018 and used the whole field more than he’s done recently. In 2018 McNeil pull% was just 32.7%, while going up the middle 37.1%. Using the whole field was a big part of his game and other teams noticed. In 2018 teams shifted just 19.4% of the time against him.

In 2019 McNeil took advantage of teams not shifting against him. His pull% went up to 44.5%, way above league average, while teams still shifted just 19.6% of the time. McNeil adjusted, hit with some more power and noticed with teams not shifting, he could go more for the occasional homeruns. Him hitting 23 bombs in 2019 shows his increase in pull%.

However teams adjusted to McNeil and starting to play in the shift more often. In 2020 teams shifted 39.4% of the time and McNeil started to decrease his pull percentage slightly to 38.3%. Although McNeil lost some of the pop again in 2020, he was still able to retain his solid batting average and on base percentage. McNeil did struggle more with the shift on as his WOBA was just .339 in shifts (lowest in his career).

With McNeil his ability to adjust his game to how other teams use their defensive alignment, I have complete faith in him having another solid season. We could see more of the 2018 and 2019 first half McNeil with less power. It will all depend on how he and teams keep adjusting. While McNeil batting in front of a lineup that consists of Conforto, Lindor, Alonso, Smith and Davis, who cares if he has less power numbers. Just get on base in front of those guys and he will score tons of runs.

Who doesn’t like this cat and mouse game between hitters and teams. Fun to look for this year and see if we can spot adjustments from both him and thr opposing teams. Another reason to look forward to the 2021 season.

Photo by: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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