How Jeff McNeil is so successful at the plate

Jeff McNeil tends to be one of the most underrated players in the league. He is an elite hitter but is often overlooked. Despite being one of the best second basemen in the league he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. So here’s why we shouldn’t overlook McNeil.

Jeff McNeil was taken in the 12th round in 2012 by the New York Mets out of Cal State Long Beach. With not being a highly sought after draft pick, he had a long road to the bigs. Now he is a big part of the Met’s lineup and it seems like he is here to stay. Throughout his entire career, even in the minors, he has always been productive at the plate. If you look at his numbers from the minors at FanGraphs it shows that he has a short adjustment period when he moves up a level but then quickly becomes extremely skilled at the plate.

McNeil is a truly skilled hitter and the ceiling for him is very high. He even goes against the grain when it comes to Statcast. Which is something that I really like to see because so many times Statcast metrics are not properly valued. Personally, I used to place the highest value in Statcast metrics until I took a more in-depth look at the actual value that they have. Metrics like average exit velocity and hard hit% are not as valuable as you may think. I haven’t published my study supporting that claim but I do plan to follow up on it.

McNeil is a perfect example as too how Statcast metrics can be valued incorrectly. If you notice how he ranks across the league he tends to fall in the middle of the pack when it comes to average exit velocity and hard hit%.

Many, including myself once, would assume that average exit velocity and hard hit% would show some sort of translation to a hitter’s results at the plate. A player with those numbers as seen above wouldn’t be expected to rank in the top 8% of wOBA last season. However, that’s exactly how McNeil ranked amongst his competition as he recorded a .385 wOBA last season. If average exit velocity and hard hit% don’t explain McNeil’s success than what does?

Well, one answer is xBA. He ranks well across the league and fell into the 88th percentile in 2019. xBA isn’t a metric though that really explains his success, it only validates it. Meaning that based on what other Stacast metrics indicate, McNeil earns the success that he has at the plate. His success isn’t a fluke.

The numbers that explain why McNeil is successful are clear. First, he doesn’t strike out often. Even though he doesn’t always hit the ball hard, he hits it often which puts him in a position to get on base. Last year his K% was 13.2% which ranked in the top 9% of the league.

Simply put, if McNeil swings at the ball he’s going to hit it. Take a look below at his swing and miss% chart.

I placed his chart next to Trout only to provide context. I’m not comparing the two players. I did this in a previous article about Austin Nola. For many, including myself, it can be unclear as to what a good swing and miss% is. So, I placed it next to Trout’s chart just to provide context.

When you compare the two, they are very close in numbers. McNeil is a great hitter and doesn’t miss often is he decides to swing the bat. McNeil does swing the bat too often though. His chase% isn’t great. I did the same thing below except with both player’s chase% chart.

McNeil chases a lot of pitches. However, there is something promising in those numbers. McNeil is already a great hitter so if he can improve his plate discipline than he can be even better. This really pushes his ceiling up. If McNeil cuts down on chasing so many pitches his improvement will translate to getting on base more.

What I want you to take away from this article is to understand that Jeff McNeil is a really good hitter and by no means is a fluke. His ceiling is really high and if he makes some improvements he could be an MVP candidate.