When he got called up to the big leagues for the first time a little over a year ago, Jeff McNeil had broken out in the minor leagues. Power was a big part of that breakout, as he had hit 19 home runs in just 384 plate appearances across his time in Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas. It was the first time he had hit double-digits in home runs in his minor league career, and he hadn’t come particularly close before that, as his previous single-season high was four.
Ironically, McNeil had hit those four home runs in an injury-shortened 2017 season. And the fact that it took until his age-26 season to turn the corner and earn his call-up was at least partly because of an injury history that cost him playing time that is essential to development. He only made 194 plate appeareances in 2017, but he had just 14 of them in 2016.
Now firmly settled in as a major league hitter, one who’s leading all of baseball with a .339 batting average, McNeil has been hitting for serious power, especially lately. If you were to make a graph of his monthly ISO—isolated slugging, which is slugging minus average—splits, it would have an “if these trends continue” look to it:
- March/April: .130
- May: .123
- June: .216
- July: .213
- August: .583
Granted we are only a little over a week into August, it’s still been an incredible increase in power. The second half, baseball’s monicker for post-All-Star break stats, is still a small sample, too, but McNeil had a .159 ISO in the first half and is sporting a .330 ISO so far in the second.
Eight of McNeil’s 15 home runs on the season have come in the second half, and he’s hit those eight in just 105 plate appearances. That’s a home run every 13.1 plate apperances, a far better rate than his 20.2 plate appearances per home run in the minors last year. Yes, the baseball has been much more likely to ravel out of the park, but McNeil has been hitting the same ball all year, and he was hitting a home run every 45.4 plate appearances in the first half. Relative to his own production, the power breakout has been immense.
If the power is here to stay, the Mets are getting in McNeil the type of hitter they got a glimpse of when Daniel Murphy went on an incredible power run down the stretch and through the playoffs in 2015. But unlike Murphy, McNeil is firmly under team control for years following the power breakout. Whether or not he keeps hitting for elite or even just above-average power, the Mets will find out the answer while he’s wearing their uniform.
Jeff McNeil was already one of the best hitters in the game this year without significant power numbers. But right now, his 153 wRC+ puts him sixth among qualified major league hitters, trailing only Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Nelson Cruz, and George Springer, all of whom are virtual locks to get significant votes in MVP voting this fall. Even when a player on your team feels properly appreciated, it’s nice to see the kind of company he’s in with his bat—and the kind of company he could surpass if he keeps hitting home runs like he has in the second half.