It was hard to believe there was a time where Jeff McNeil was in a slump during the 2020 season. The New York Mets relied on him to be one of their best hitters and be their everyday third baseman. It only took a couple of weeks to prove he was better off in left field and the Mets. In the end, it was still another productive year from McNeil.
Jeff McNeil – New York Mets (4) pic.twitter.com/EUrFTXKCSf
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) September 10, 2020
McNeil struggled to find his way on both sides of the ball during the first half of the season. Eight of the first nine games he started were at third base. McNeil made five errors at the position and struggled mightily with his throwing. He traded spots with J.D. Davis and moved to left field, and it turned out to be the best move. McNeil was above average in left field; he did not make an error and mixed in plenty of great defensive plays.
Out of all the Mets, McNeil is the most locked in at the plate, and sometimes it shows through his frustration. He only hit .258/.330/.315, through his first 27 games, and even more surprising because he did not hit a home run as well. McNeil’s hard-hit percentage dropped over ten percent from the 2019 season.
He was still making contact and putting the ball in play at a high rate, but the solid contact we expect was not coming out. This was a major reason why he struggled to homer through the first month and a half. McNeil’s batting stance height also fluctuated throughout the year; once he settled on one position, he began to hit well again.
Once McNeil figured things out, the hits did not stop. In the last 25 games, he batted .362/.434/.585 with four home runs, nine doubles, and had 11 walks and ten strikeouts. McNeil’s .311 average was ninth in the NL, and his 14 doubles were tied for ninth in the league. He struggled against breaking balls, hitting .146 (.256 in 2019) but made up for it by hitting .410 on offspeed pitches (.356 in 2019).
McNeil continued his first pitch dominance, hitting .432 with a .702 slugging when swinging at the first pitch. He also hit .308 w/RISP, and combining it with his strikeout rate in the top two percent in all of baseball made him a very dangerous hitter. His ability to keep his bat in the zone for a long time and wait on the offspeed is how a slump for him was equal to average stats for most players.
McNeil has an interesting role for the 2021 Mets because he likely sees more outfield than infield opportunities. His bat is indispensable; not many players have a .319 career hitter at McNeil’s low price. He should put up All-Star numbers again in 2021.
2020 Grades On 20-80 Scale (2021 Projection)
Hitting: 75 (80), One of the best pure hitters in the game.
Power: 40 (50), Expect him to get back into the 15-20 range next season.
Run: 55 (50), Does not steal any bases but good wheels on the bases and the outfield.
Arm: 45 (60), The jump is because his arm is better suited for the outfield—strong and plus accuracy.
Field: 50 (50), The ability to play four different positions is a plus. His best work comes in the outfield.
Overall: 60 (70), I think McNeil could have told you he expected a better year. It was good, not great.