Anyone who says baseball is boring has never seen New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil step up to the plate. His approach to hitting is exactly what the game needs more of.
In the short time we’ve seen Jeff McNeil in the major leagues, one of his most consistent attributes has been an ability to put the ball in play. On a team like the New York Mets with several 100+ strikeout candidates, it’s nice to see.
The entire sport has an issue with players strikeout out too much and not putting the ball in play. Players are looking for the right pitch a little too often and either drawing walks or seeing strike three pass by. McNeil’s playing style is a breath of fresh air in a slow-moving sport that could use some speeding up.
McNeil is averaging just over 60 strikeouts per 162 games. It’s a total worth admiring. Yoenis Cespedes struck out 50 times this season in only 38 games. Fellow outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are seeing strike three called on average more than once per game as well, something that has held back both from having better years.
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When it comes to the topic of baseball moving slowly, Conforto and Nimmo are certainly culprits. They walk a lot and we forgive them for their strikeouts because of it.
Putting the bat on the ball is no guarantee for success, but it sure seems to help. McNeil is hitting well over .300 and a good reason for it is how much contact he makes. A single is always better than a walk no matter how much we’re told differently.
We have not seen McNeil showcase an exceptional eye at the plate. He averaged less than 40 walks per 162 games this past season. On its own, there’s nothing special about this number. Paired with the low strikeout rate, it’s a dangerous weapon to have. When walks can cancel out strikeouts those bad at-bats are often forgiven.
When I first saw McNeil’s good strikeout to walk ratio, I thought maybe this was some beginner’s luck. Not so. Throughout his professional career, the avoidance of K’s has been obvious. His 69 strikeouts in 2015 are the current high in any single year. Considering this took place over 613 plate appearances, it’s far from something to feel ashamed about.
What’s more, the 69 strikeouts is less than what he was on pace for with the Mets during his time in the big leagues this past year.
The 2018 Mets were about average in walks and strikeouts. It’s not an epidemic for this baseball club to strike out far more than it walks.
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Even so, McNeil’s talents would do well to rub off on his teammates. The game and his teammates could use more of it.