In the New York Mets want to contend in 2024, they will need second baseman Jeff McNeil to return to an All-Star caliber level of play. They did not get that from him last summer, as he was stuck in a months-long slump.
McNeil's 2023 season was a three-act play. He came out strong in April, batting .298 with a .831 OPS. But, had the worst three-month stretch of his career from May to July, where he hit .237 and had an OPS of .597 in that span. Then, he bounced back to hit 303 with an .809 OPS in August and September to give him a bit of confidence entering this season.
Jeff McNeil must improve the quality of contact in 2024, or else it will be a long summer, and he'll carry momentum over from the end of last season.
Jeff McNeil is coming off the most inconsistent season of his six-year career with the Mets. McNeil is looking to be a more consistent hitter, the one he has been throughout his Mets career where he is constantly hitting over .300 while playing some good defense at second base and in the outfield.
When you dive deeper into his season on Baseball Savant, his contact rates ranked among the highest in baseball. However, it felt like he kept swinging under the ball and just missing the sweet spot, which led to a lot of pop outs, and in some cases, inabilities to move baserunners with less than two outs, a big problem the Mets had last year.
Opposing pitchers kept attacking the upper third of the strike zone on McNeil and they would get him to swing at them and took advantage of his high swing percentage. His popup rate increased from 5.9 percent in 2022 to 10.1 percent last year. Because of that, the differences of his Statcast rankings the last two seasons were quite striking.
Consider that last year, McNeil had 28 popfly outs. In 2023, that number went up to 52, and only four other players in baseball had more popouts than he did. Hopefully, Eric Chavez can help fix the quality of contact problems McNeil had under Jeremy Barnes last season.
When McNeil makes contact and constantly locates the sweet spot, which he did during his incredible run to the batting title in 2022, he is one of the most fun players to watch in baseball. He has already made two trips to the All-Star game thanks to that. In 2024, there's no reason why he shouldn't make a run at a third.
Meanwhile, McNeil has been an above average defender his entire career. In 2023, he registered positive outs above average marks at three different positions: second base, left field, and right field. Who know how Carlos Mendoza will manage his outfielders' playing time in 2024 with Harrison Bader joining the team, Brandon Nimmo playing left field and the health of Starling Marte being big questions. But McNeil's services may be needed outside of second base in 2024, and it will prove how versatile he is.
2024 stat predictions: .290 AVG, 10 HR, 65 RBI, .745 OPS