The New York Mets and the New York Yankees share one of the country’s biggest baseball cities and markets. They both have extremely talented players in their respective rosters.
And, as far as a pure hitters go, they each have one elite representative. The Yankees‘ DJ LeMahieu, and the Mets’ Jeff McNeil are both excellent, but who’s the king of New York?
The case for Jeff McNeil, the New York Mets‘ sparkplug
As Fangraphs’ Jay Jaffe explained, Jeff McNeil is kind of a throwback. He is a contact-oriented batter with very few strikeouts and not a lot of homers, although he just hit 23 with the Mets in 2019 after clubbing 22 at three levels in 2018.
In his first three professional seasons, he achieved high batting averages but very low home runs outputs. After he reached Double-A, he needed surgeries to take care of a sports hernia and a torn labrum. That took away all but three games of his 2016, and a groin ailment erased his 2017 (he only played 48 games.)
By the time the 2018 season rolled, he had added 40 pounds of muscle and proceeded to tear up Double-A (182 wRC+) Triple-A (165 wRC+) and even the bigs in 248 plate appearances (137 wRC.)
For those who were wondering, he was able to maintain that performance level in 2019 and then some. He hit .318/.384/.531 in 567 plate appearances, with 23 homers, 83 runs, 75 RBI, and a 143 wRC+. All of that accounted for 4.6 fWAR. He finished fourth in the National League’s race for the batting title.
The one red flag, at least when it comes to predicting future performance, is his Statcast profile. Although he was in the 88th percentile in expected batting average, he was below-average in hard-hit rate (37th percentile) and average exit velocity (38th percentile.)
However, as a pure hitter, he was among the best. He drew his fair share of walks (6.2%) while maintaining an extremely low strikeout percentage (13.2.) His healthy line-drive rate (22.1%) is a proof of his bat-to-ball skills. McNeil was arguably the best batter of the New York Mets. His 143 wRC+ was tied to Peter Alonso for the team’s lead.
The case for DJ LeMahieu, the New York Yankees‘ offensive force
If the Mets have their all-around batting star, the Yankees have one to counter. DJ LeMahieu finished a 2019 for the ages in which he was fourth in the MVP race. He also accrued a team-leading 5.4 fWAR.
He had a .327/.375/.518 line with a 136 wRC+, the highest of his career. He achieved another career-best: 26 home runs. And while it is true that the “juiced” ball may have inflated LeMahieu’s stats a bit, the same could be said about McNeil.
LeMahieu’s career includes four .300+ seasons and a .302 average in 4454 plate appearances. It has been established over the years that, as far as contact hitters go, he is among the league’s best.
DJ’s 85.5 contact percentage was better than McNeil’s 81.4 in 2019, and he also won the race in 2018, 87.5 to 85.1.
The at-bat against Roberto Osuna in the American League Championship Series in Game 6 is the full representation of LeMahieu as a hitter. He fouled off great pitches, worked the count full, and then unloaded a game-tying home run in the ninth inning.
LeMahieu established a difference in his Statcast profile. Unlike McNeil, he truly mashed the ball, as evidenced by his elite rates in exit velocity (92nd percentile) hard-hit percentage (90th percentile) expected wOBA (90th percentile) expected batting average (99th percentile) and expected slugging (88th percentile.)
Right now, DJ LeMahieu’s Statcast profile fully validates his successful season, and he has a fairly longer track record of being a prolific pure hitter than Jeff McNeil.
The Mets‘ McNeil may not be a young prospect anymore at 27, but in two or three years, he may be able to overtake LeMahieu as New York’s best pure hitter if the latter starts to decline, which is a possibility since he would be 33 or 34.
Of course, both teams may or may not add other talented batters in that proposed timeframe, but for the purposes of this exercise, I am taking the Yankees‘ LeMahieu today, and the Mets‘ McNeil for the future as New York’s best pure hitter.