HomeTeamsMetsThe Sinking Squirrel

The Sinking Squirrel

The Mets haven’t looked consistently solid since 2022. Jeff McNeil hasn’t hit consistently well since 2022. These two facts are most certainly connected.

In sports, it’s easy to pinpoint a player on a team and say that the team’s success depends on him/her. It’s rarely an accurate statement. In baseball especially, it’s unlikely.  The 2024 Mets have multiple potentially impactful players in their lineup. For example, they don’t necessarily need Francisco Lindor to drive in runs if Pete Alonso and/or J.D. Martinez are doing it. So, while it sounds great to say something like “as Francisco Lindor goes, so go the Mets,” it’s actually not true.

However, as packed as the Mets lineup can be, at least at the top half, if a key player is mired in a season-long slump, it’s going to hurt them. In Jeff McNeil’s case, the slump extends into last season.

Before getting into that though, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane. In high school, Jeff McNeil was a three-sport athlete, with golf being his best sport (basketball and baseball were the others). Because the high school golf and baseball seasons coincided, McNeil first chose to focus on golf, however after a disappointing showing in the 2009 US Junior Amateur Golf Championship, McNeil shifted to baseball in his senior year, the only year he played for his school team. Still, between his high school play and his summer league numbers, he earned a scholarship to play college baseball. In his junior year at Long Beach State, McNeil was named to the All-Big West first team, with a .348 batting average. After being drafted by the Mets in 2013, McNeil went right to work with similar results, batting .329 in Rookie ball that year, then .332 for Single-A Savannah the next year, and then .312 for High-A St. Lucie in 2015. He missed most of the 2016 and 2017 seasons due to injury, although did manage to hit .342 combined between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas in 2018. In fact, in July of 2018, he was called up to the majors, and by the end of the season he had batted .329 in 225 at-bats for the Mets. In other words, Jeff McNeil has always been a good hitter.

In 2022, McNeil’s success reached a new level when he became the first Mets player in history to lead the majors in batting average (.326). He led the Mets regulars in on-base percentage that year and was second to Pete Alonso in OPS.  He was also the first Mets second baseman to be awarded a Silver Slugger award since Edgardo Alfonzo, 23 years earlier.

Last year, however, things took a turn. While it wasn’t his worst season in the big leagues, there was enough of an offensive drop off across the board to be worthy of concern. Just before the end of the 2023 season, the Mets placed McNeil on the injury list with a partially torn right elbow UCL. He was able to avoid surgery, and while it took a bit for him to swing the bat in spring training, he was eventually deemed before Opening Day.

However, something’s not right. Through 42 games this year, his average had dropped to a sorry .230, and his OPS is just .613. That’s about .160 off his career pace. Or, to be less mathematical about it, that’s terrible.

Here’s why it’s such a problem for the Mets…McNeil brings something to the lineup that nobody else does; he’s a scrappy hitter who prioritizes getting on base to hitting home runs, and that’s just not something the rest of the Mets lineup has. Lindor, arguably the Mets most talented hitter, has not hit above .270 over the course of any season in a Mets uniform. Alonso’s best was a rather similar .271. Last year, Lindor has his best OPS with the Mets, Alonso’s production was pretty much on part with where it had been in other seasons, and the same could be said for Brandon Nimmo. Meanwhile, Jeff McNeil’s batting average dropped from .326 to .270, and the Mets finished under .500 just one season after winning more than 100 games.

While I’m not suggesting that all of the Mets hopes are pinned on McNeil – his high batting average wouldn’t make up for especially poor play from Alonso or/or Lindor – I am offering that McNeil’s shortcomings are being felt up and down the Mets lineup.

If Jeff McNeil’s struggles are due to injury, or not being fully healed from the work done (he didn’t get surgery) on his elbow then he needs to go back on the injured list. If he believes he’s truly healed from that injury and his problems with the bat are unrelated, then he’s going to have to figure it out soon in order to help prevent the Mets from going nowhere.

Shai Kushner
Shai Kushnerhttps://mlbreport.com/
Shai Kushner, is a seasoned sports journalist and versatile professional deeply embedded in the world of baseball. Since 2014, Shai has been a trusted voice covering the New York Mets for BaseballDigest.com and GothamBaseball.com. Before his journalism career, he served as a video engineer for the Mets Baseball Operations department.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here