New York Mets infielder Jeff McNeil is one of the elite contact hitters in all of baseball. Despite missing some time in previous seasons, he’s hit at least .300 in each season since coming up in 2018, and that involves in playing in at least 52 games each year. He hardly strikes out, he’s getting better at seeing ball four and there’s enough pop in his bat to be an adequate source of power, too. I mean, he did pop 23 round trippers back in 2019 and post a .214 ISO.
The big question regarding his 2019 season is in regard to his home run production, specifically was that season a fluke from a power perspective? Well, his HR/FB rate that season was 15.4 percent, whereas in other years it was just 3.8 percent (2018) and 7.7 percent (2020). Furthermore, some of his batted ball metrics, especially those that relate to hard contact and power numbers, took a significant step back.
If we look at his exit velocity, hard hit rate, and barrel rate, those marks came in at the 17th, fifth, and eighth percentile respectively. Ouch. For reference, they came in at the 41st, 35th, and 21st percentile respectively in 2019. So, yes, his average exit velocity dropped overall and the contact he was putting forth wasn’t indicative of a 20+ homer guy. His xSLG mark cratered in 2020, especially against breaking (curve, slider, etc.) stuff.
Moving away from percentiles and talking sheer data, his exit velocity dropped over three miles per hour, his barrel rate was cut in half and his launch angle dropped nearly two and a half degrees. From a batted ball profile, he was closer to the 2018 version of himself, but with more line drives, and all in all, that isn’t a bad thing. However, it does allude to McNeil’s home run numbers maybe being in the 12-15 range, versus being above 20 for the season.
Even with fluctuations in his power profile, he continues to not strikeout and display solid contact marks. He’s posted a zone contact of at least 88 percent each of the past three years, and his overall contact rate rebounded after being at just 81.4 percent in 2019. McNeil is going to hit for a high average, and a 13 percent strikeout rate is really good these days, but it was nice to see him drop it back to 11.5 percent last year. McNeil should be right around that mark again, but the big key will be seeing if he is able to maintain last year’s 9.6 percent walk rate. His walk rate from 2018-2019 was six percent.
The New York infielder does have a lengthy injury history, including spending at least one calendar month on the disabled/injured list in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and then serving three different injured list stints in his solid 2019 campaign. He’s going to be trusted as an everyday player, so the concerns that he won’t hold up over a full year are unfortunately valid. It’s absolutely something to consider.
We know that we can rely on McNeil to boost our team’s batting average, but to increase his value, or accurately predict it, we need to figure out where his home run total is going to lie. For his career, we get a 162-game average that looks like this.
- .319/.383/.501 with 20 home runs, 76 RBI, 89 runs scored and eight SB
The power numbers are certainly strengthened by that 2019 season, so what if we extrapolate just his 2020 numbers over a full season.
- .311/.383/.454 with 12 home runs, 71 RBI, 59 runs scored and zero stolen bases
So, the slash line is similar, but the power numbers are obviously done. He didn’t run at all in 2020, but that will change in 2021. He’ll steal a handful of bases, likely in the six-to-ten range.
McNeil is one of fantasy baseball’s elite producers in the batting average department, and he does so by helping out a bit in all of the other categories as well. He carries multi-positional eligibility, including have eligibility at one of the game’s weaker positions (second base). To be frank, he’s a poor man’s DJ LeMahieu , and can be selected multiple rounds after, per NFBC data..
Injury concerns and an underwhelming batted ball profile make banking on 15+ home runs risky. However, he’ll be an elite contributor in batting average, and a safe floor to bank on for McNeil in 2021 in a loaded Mets lineup would be 12-14 home runs with six-to-eight stolen bases alongside a .310 average.