Jeff McNeil: A throwback reviving the days when batting averages counted

Jeff McNeil: It doesn't get better than this (SNY)

Jeff McNeil sincerely cares about his batting average and working the count in every single one of his at-bats that goes down as a war. What an oddball!

Jeff McNeil is known around Mets camp these days as Jeff McHits. While his teammates have the utmost respect for his approach at the plate, opposing pitchers find him to be extremely annoying.

If near truth is told, Jeff McNeil is an oddball in today’s game. He goes against the grain, believing that a walk is not as good as a hit and a strikeout is a mortal sin.

Make a mistake early in the count, and he’ll crush a ball over the wall, something he did twenty-three times last season. Down in the count, McNeil takes off the armor, and he’ll beat you with a soft liner over the shortstop’s head.

Jeff McNeil: Don’t Take This Pest On A Picnic

He’s a pest, and he’s also the best. In their entire existence, the Mets have had only one lifetime .300 hitter.

John Olerud - Only Mets lifetime .300 batter
John Olerud – Only Mets lifetime .300 batter

That was John Olerud, whose three years with the Mets produced a .315 batting average (.295 overall).

Over 735 at-bats, the rough equivalent of a lead-off hitter’s full season, Jeff McNeil is at .318 with 236 hits, 118 runs scored, and 94 run driven home. No Met has ever approached those numbers over the same period.

little-noticed article written by Jared Diamond appeared in the Wall Street Journal on July 22, 2019. It was given the title, “The Last Player In Baseball Who Cares About Batting Average”.

Its subject was Jeff McNeil, who “plays in an era when everyone is trying to slug the ball over the fence, the Mets’ Jeff McNeil has one goal when he steps in the batter’s box: to hit ’em where they ain’t.”

McNeil: To Help The Mets – Yeah He’ll For Average

And with that, McNeil is not embarrassed to “admit” that his goal this season is to win a batting title. “I care about batting average,” McNeil says. “That’s the one stat I look at.”

Jeff Mc Neil: Tony Gwynn look-alike (NY Times)
Jeff McNeil: Tony Gwynn look-alike (NY Times)

Of course, a batting title and a can of beans will not get you a seven-year $300 million deal at the same rate a home run title will.

And so Jeff McNeil, who is modeling himself in the same way as Hall of Fame slash hitters like Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.

And if you take a peek at their career earnings total $5,732,500 for Carew while Guinn fared a bit better earning $47,230, 584 Baseball-Reference.

The sad truth, though, is McNeil is already buried by circumstance by his placement in the hierarchy of the Mets list of free agents to be and corresponding Pete Alonso type contracts in the near future.

At 6’1″ 195 lbs, it’s conceivable Jeff McNeil can, if he chooses to do so, bulk up and because his hand to eye contact is so far above the rest, quickly hit 45-50 home runs this year and every year after that.

But Jeff McNeil is not in competition with Pete Alonso. Instead, he’s in competition with himself – which in any professional sport always produces the best results.

This might be another way to suggest the element of Team the Mets are cultivating for the 2020 season. Jeff, you get on base – Pete, you drive him in.

Only 16 players finished with a .300 batting average in 2018. Last year, the number rose by one to seventeen. Contrast that, however, with the fact that throughout the 1970s and ’80s, an average of about 24 players hit .300 each season.

Why Fight City Hall If The Mets Win

Why fight City Hall, though? If hitting for average is a lost art or even something a major leaguer establishes as a goal for himself, let it be.

McNeil and Alonso side by side leading the Mets (NY Daily News)
McNeil and Alonso side by side leading the Mets (NY Daily News)

Because that will only make Jeff McNeil an even bigger force in the Mets lineup, as well as an ongoing pest opposing pitchers must deal with before they enjoy the pleasure of facing Robinson Cano, Pete Alonso, and Michael Conforto.

A batting title is in the future of Jeff McNeil. The only question is, in what year will it come? In any year, though, don’t ever count out Jeff McHits.

And besides, how can you not root for a guy who loves his dog? (featured image)

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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.