Coming into the 2022 season, no one knew what to expect from Jeff McNeil. After proving to be one of the best hitters in the game in his first three years in the big leagues, McNeil struggled immensely in 2021. Between parting ways with their hitting coach early on that season and the team lacking a true hitting philosophy, it’s fair to say McNeil was one of the players on the 2021 Mets impacted the most.
Last offseason, McNeil was the subject of many trade rumors and discussions, with people struggling to find a fit on the team for the former All-Star. Instead, the Mets reached spring training with McNeil on the team, as a move they didn’t make in the offseason, ended up being one of the best decisions they made all year.
Powered by a new hitting philosophy from first-year hitting coach Eric Chavez to put the ball in play, McNeil thrived from the get-go as the most consistent bat in the Mets’ lineup. After posting career lows in 2021 in OPS+, wRC+, OPS, and slugging, McNeil bounced back in a big way with an .870 OPS in the month of April to start the season.
McNeil kept up much of his hot hitting in the first half of the season with a slash line of .300/.363/.418 with 4 home runs and 35 RBI’s. This excellent start to the year helped send McNeil to Los Angeles as an All-Star for the second time in his career, all happening while his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child.
After a brief cold stretch heading into the All-Star break as well as coming out of the gate to start the second half, McNeil had a torrid second half of the season, busting out of his slump in a three-game series in Miami to close out the month of July. In the second half of the year, McNeil proved to be the best hitter on the Mets, posting a line of .356/.404/.494. This torrid pace helped power McNeil to his first ever NL batting title, as he and Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers battled it out until the last day of the season. McNeil ultimately came out on top, with a final line of .327/.382/.454 while hitting 9 home runs and 39 doubles, and driving in 62 runners.
While what McNeil did with the bat in 2022 was exceptional, it does not tell the full story of the impact he had on the Mets. Always known for his ability to play multiple positions in the field well, McNeil took that to a whole new level in 2022. Second base proved to be McNeil’s regular spot in the field, as he appeared there in over 100 games, he also showed the ability to play both left and right field very well. This was invaluable to the Mets, especially in the last month of the season when Starling Marte was on the injured list with a broken hand.
After Rawlings announced there would be a Gold Glove award for utility players, it was fair to assume McNeil would be right at the top of the list as favorites to win this award. Unfortunately for him, as well as the other Mets utility man-extraordinaire Luis Guillorme, neither of the two were able to take home the hardware when the award was announced at the beginning of November.
McNeil’s efforts in the field and at the plate netted him an impressive 5.7 bWAR and 5.9 fWAR, a Silver Slugger award for second basemen, and a top-15 finish in the NL MVP voting. Behind Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, and Edwin Díaz, McNeil was right near the top in being the best and most important player for a Mets team that won over 100 games.
With McNeil still in his arbitration years and not set to become a free agent until the mid 2020’s, it would be wise for the Mets to extend McNeil this offseason. A fan favorite and an integral part of the team, McNeil deserves the chance to be paid like one of the best hitters in baseball. In 2023, if the Mets are to be contenders, McNeil will need to be at the forefront of the team yet again, hitting the ball all over the field and making highlight reel plays with his glove.