When the Mets traded for Billy McKinney two-and-a-half weeks ago, the team had gotten fairly desperate. With over a dozen players on the injured list, including fellow outfielders Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Kevin Pillar, Albert Almora Jr., and Johneshwy Fargas—plus theoretical occasional outfielders Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis, and José Martinez—the depths of the Mets’ depth had been tested and exhausted.
Having made his major league debut with the Yankees in 2018, McKinney had twice been traded as a minor leaguer and found himself traded again, alongside fellow current Met Brandon Drury, to the Blue Jays as the Yankees acquired J.A. Happ. Between his time with those two American League East teams, McKinney got 132 plate appearances and hit a solid .252/.318/.462 with six home runs and a 112 wRC+.
Given a more extended look the following year, McKinney took a step in the wrong direction, as he hit just .215/.274/.422 with 12 home runs and a 79 wRC+ in 276 plate appearances for Toronto. And after getting just three plate appearances in the pandemic-shortened season last year, McKinney was claimed on waivers by the Brewers with a couple weeks remaining in the regular season and didn’t play for them until this year.
In 100 plate appearances with Milwaukee, McKinney mostly looked like the hitter he had been in that longer look with Toronto in 2019. He had a .207/.260/.359 line with three home runs and a 66 wRC+, and shortly after he was dealt to the Mets, he was inserted into the lineup in the cleanup spot. The move was taken by most Mets observers as a sign of how bleak things might get despite the fact that the Mets were in first place.
Since his first appearance with the Mets, though, McKinney has been on an absolute tear. In 44 plate appearances, he’s hit .275/.341/.700 with four home runs and a 180 wRC+. It’s an incredibly tiny sample, but it’s unexpectedly been a whole lot of fun to watch. And on top of hitting that well, McKinney has flashed a pretty good glove in right field.
Clearly the production the Mets have gotten out of McKinney thus far looks like it’s due for some regression. Nothing seems to have drastically changed upon his arrival in Queens, with his walk rate up just a small amount, his strikeout rate down a similar amount, and his batting average on balls in play sitting at .269. The thing about BABIP, of course, is that home runs aren’t balls in play and therefore don’t factor into the number. Maybe it’s worth noting that McKinney’s chase rate is down with the Mets, and his contact rate is up. For a former top-100 prospect in baseball whose hit tool was praised, maybe that’s something noteworthy.
If you had to bet on what the rest of McKinney’s season looks like, you’d probably put that money on something closer to his performance in Milwaukee or Toronto. It would be the wise move, after all, and again, it’s just 44 plate appearances with the Mets. But on the off chance there’s some sort of breakout happening here, it might be difficult to see it until it’s happened over a much longer period of time.
In the event that this is merely a hot streak that the Mets have gotten at the perfect time, it should still be considered a win. And that’s probably what it is. But if McKinney goes another 44 plate appearances without dropping off a cliff, maybe he’s slated for something more than a brief hot streak.