Jeff McNeil quickly built a very specific reputation among Mets fans upon his MLB debut in 2018. The dude swings at a lot of pitches, but he almost always makes contact. And, that contact leads to base hits rather frequently.
He’s the Mets’ resident hit machine. That’s why it was so tough to watch him struggle through a subpar 2021 season.
McNeil suited up for 248 games with New York between 2018 and 2020. He compiled an impressive .319/.383/.501 line in 1,024 plate appearances. This was followed by a 2021 campaign that included a very uncharacteristic .251/.319/.360 triple slash in 426 trips to the plate.
That performance led to some questions about what to expect from the left-handed hitter in 2022. Based on his MLB track record, you had to think a rebound was in order. That’s exactly what happened for McNeil, who captured his second All-Star Game selection and first batting title. Just look at how much his offensive numbers improved across the board:
Jeff McNeil's 2021-2022 changes, with MLB Rank
BA: 1st (+.075, .251 -> .326)
OBP: 1st (+.063, .319 -> .382)
SLG: 4th (+.094, .360 -> .454)
LD%: 3rd (+7.2%, 22.8% -> 30%)
He's possibly the most improved hitter in baseball from last season pic.twitter.com/QHleMjZCFb
— holly jolly olive (@Jolly_Olive) October 6, 2022
McNeil’s OPS went from .679 in 2021 to .836 in 2022. His 143 wRC+ was nearly a new single-season career-high mark. His 5.9 fWAR definitely was, though, beating out the 4.8 he posted in 2019 by a wide margin.
Capitalizing on four-seam fastballs is one thing New York’s hit machine has done quite well throughout his career. It didn’t happen at all in 2021, and I wondered how much he got back to normal in that category this past year.
As it turns out, he’s all the way back, folks. Here’s a look at McNeil’s OPS and wRC+ against four-seamers throughout each year of his MLB career:
- 2018: .693, 100
- 2019: .895, 144
- 2020: .843, 136
- 2021: .679, 95
- 2022: .829, 149
This is obviously great to see. Other things that stand out when looking at McNeil’s performance against four-seamers include his plate discipline and batted-ball profile.
He’s never been one to strike out much, but he took things to another level in 2022. His 9.0% strikeout rate and 11.4% walk rate on this offering were both career-best marks. This included a career-low 19.3% chase rate and a 76.1% swing rate on strikes that was close to his career average. It’s also the first time his walk rate out-paced his strikeout rate in this scenario.
McNeil got the ball in the air more when offering at four-seamers but in the right way. His fly-ball rate went from 34.1% to 38.6%, while his ground-ball rate dropped from 41.5% to 28.3%. As you can imagine, the majority of this change went to the second baseman’s line-drive rate, which improved from 24.4% to 33.1%.
His season-long line-drive rate of 23.8% was among the top 10 in baseball when looking at qualified hitters. His results on line drives were also much better, going from a 287 wRC+ in 2021 to a 363 mark in 2022.
It wasn’t just all about getting back to business against four-seamers for McNeil. Winning a batting title means he crushed most of the pitches thrown in his direction.
McNeil posted a wRC+ better than 100 against just two pitches in 2021: sinkers (114) and curveballs (166). He saw seven pitches at least 30 times in 2022 and posted a wRC+ better than 100 against six of them:
- Four-seamer: 149
- Sinker: 179
- Slider: 131
- Changeup: 152
- Cutter: 79
- Curveball: 157
- Splitter: 134
Jeff McNeil went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs from the standpoint of personal performance between 2021 and 2022. The Mets and Mets fans will hope he can keep riding the positive momentum into 2023 and beyond in the middle of a stacked lineup.