The Subway Series can be an intimidating backdrop for an inexperienced MLB player. However, it wasn't surprising that Jeff McNeil left his mark on one of the Mets' marquee series of the season.
McNeil played in both games of the doubleheader and went a combined 4-10 with three runs, three RBI and a home run en route to a series split. If Yankees fans in attendance or the national audience that paid attention to the series didn't know who McNeil was before, they sure know now.
McNeil succeeds by playing a different brand of baseball than the rest of the Mets. In an era where home runs are prominent and strikeouts verge on acceptable, the Mets live and die by swinging big. There's a lot of power in the lineup, but the team has also struck out the seventh-most times in the MLB.
Enter Jeff McNeil, the opposite of the Mets' trends. His three home runs are the least among Mets regulars, but his .338 batting average is the third-highest in the National League.
Simply put, McNeil's a throwback: he puts the ball in play, and rarely strikes out. No one on the team has a lower strikeout rate than McNeil, and only Dominic Smith has a higher on-base percentage, albeit with significantly fewer at-bats.
How does McNeil get on base so much? While he doesn't strike out, he also doesn't draw too many walks, either. Instead, McNeil relies almost entirely on his excellent batted-ball skills. McNeil puts the ball in play in 88.2 percent of his at-bats, which is higher than all other Mets and the sixth-best figure in the MLB.
McNeil's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is also quite high, at .373. While that seems like an unsustainably high number, the gap between McNeil's average and BABIP isn't all that large (35 points). If the gap had instead been noticeable -- like the 99-point separation between Brandon Lowe's average and BABIP -- it may have pointed to some fortunate, but hard-to-maintain good luck over a full season.
McNeil's hard-hit percentage has also increased dramatically from 28.9 percent last year to 40.4 percent this season. If he keeps hitting the ball hard, it stands to reason that we'll see more extra-base hits and power from him soon.
McNeil has been a nice change of pace for a Mets lineup that features lots of sluggers who can run hot and cold. Regardless of the rest of the lineup's performance, though, it's been a safe bet that McNeil will be on base, waiting for someone to drive him in.
And when McNeil gets the chance to send runners home, he has delivered. He is hitting .349 with runners in scoring position, which is the second-highest mark on the team.
He's a perfect fit as a National League leadoff man, almost akin to what DJ LeMahieu has done for the crosstown Yankees. While LeMahieu has received well-deserved praise for excelling in his role, McNeil's contributions have fallen a bit under the radar outside of Flushing.
Although his batting average and on-base percentage are top-five in the NL, McNeil did not rank very highly in the first round of All-Star voting, coming in at 18th among outfielders.
That doesn't mean that his teammates haven't taken note of his professional approach.
"He does his homework on guys," J.D. Davis told NorthJersey.com. "If guys throw in, he'll work that day on pulling the ball in the air, not pulling the ball on the ground. If he knows a guy has got a two-seam and is going to stay away, he's going to work on slapping the ball to the five, six hole. I think the biggest thing is he goes wherever the pitcher is going or the pitch is going. He's pretty good at that, reacting."
"He's a pure hitter," Mickey Callaway recently said. He's a guy that we need in there as often as possible."
The Mets haven't had many constants this year in their lineup. McNeil has provided consistent production though, and he's done it while playing all over the diamond, starting games at second base, third base and left field.
The Mets first called up McNeil almost a year ago. Through nearly a full season in the bigs, it's clear that McNeil is here to stay. He provides a different offensive approach than the rest of the lineup, but that's OK. Aside from Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto, there hasn't been a more productive batter for the Mets this year.