In case you haven't noticed, Jeff McNeil has fallen in the race for the National League batting title. However, as his batting average has dropped, his power is up.
On July 30, McNeil led the batting title race with a .335 average. Dodgers OF Cody Bellinger was second, trailing by just one percentage point.
However, on Wednesday, McNeil is hitting .324, with Anthony Rendon of the Nationals now leading the league with a .338 average.
In other words, the way it stands right now, McNeil is roughly 25 hits shy of batting .338. This means that in order to catch Rendon's current pace, McNeil must bat just over .400 between now and the end of the season.
The only multi-week stretch McNeil has hit .400 was the first few weeks of the season. He had been hitting a consistent .330 or so from that point through his recent drop off, which began in early August.
But if the slight drop in batting average results in more power (as has been the case), McNeil and the Mets might be better off in the long run.
"He's standing more upright, presumably to get more bat through the zone so he can get more drive to the ball," a team's hitting coach told me. "It's similar to what you may recall them doing with Daniel Murphy in 2015."
McNeil averaged just one home run every 37 at-bats during the first 88 games of this season. Since then, during just 27 games played, he is averaging one home run every 11 at-bats.
It's also worth noting that in the 10 games he has played since missing time with a sore hamstring, McNeil has 11 hits in 41 at-bats. Of course, he has also hit three home runs, two doubles, and driven in nine during that span.
During the second inning on Monday, McNeil hit a grounder, stopped running half way up the first base line knowing he'd be out and then slammed his helmet to the ground in frustration. It was his 15th straight at-bat without a hit, which was the longest drought of his short career.
"He's a fiery competitor," manager Mickey Callaway later said. "He wants to get a hit every single time."
Thankfully, McNeil ended that streak later in the game when hitting a two-run hoimer against Nationals pitcher Joe Ross, which sparked a game-changing rally en route to a win.
"I think he was running out of bats," J.D. Davis joked after the game. "He was slamming his bat too many times when he got out, so I think it was a matter of time before he found a good one."
McNeil's hitting coach, Chili Davis, recently made a similar comment, according to Newsday.
"You just got to deal with it and stay focused," Davis explained. "When I was a second-year player in the big leagues, I went 4-for-94. That was rough. I don't think he'll ever see that. He's too good a hitter."
The coach I spoke with made a similar comment.
"He's a true hitter and he's proven himself smart enough to eventually stop thinking himself out of at-bats," he said. "He'll pull out of it, no question. Balls will drop again, he'll feel it click in his body again and from there his natural ability will take it from there. I say this because I've seen it a million times."
In regards to the ball dropping, I assume the hitting coach is referring to McNeil's recent .239 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) -- i.e. he's hitting it right at the opposing team's fielders. He had a .380 BABIP through his first 89 games this season, at which time he still led the National League in hitting.
Looking back on recent games, McNeil appears to be more jumpy in the box than he was when rolling earlier in the season. These days, he is wagging his bat more and shifting his feet. He appears to be guessing and, as mentioned above, standing more tall prior to the pitch.
In other words, despite his early-season success, he is now tinkering with his swing and approach, some of which may be in an effort to increase power (and it's working). But it may also be a natural response to how pitchers have adjusted to him at a time when the strength of his hamstring is likely in the back of his mind.
According to Davis, he has instructed McNeil to use the more upright, power stroke when facing pitchers that have less movement on their fastballs. However, when facing a pitcher with more downward movement, McNeil is advised to bend and get more drive at the knees.
This is all great news, though it may end up meaning McNeil fails in being this year's batting champion.
Instead, though, we may end up seeing McNeil grow in to a better hitter because of this recent "slump."
The best contact hitters of the past 30 years all used multiple swings for different situations against different types of pitchers. Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs and Harold Baines are the first to come to mind.
As a result, the aforementioned names all became legendary for attacking early in the count and spraying the ball to any blade of grass on all sides of the field, while getting them to consistently land between the infielders and outfielders. At the same time, each could shift their grip or positioning of their feet, generate more leverage and rip a home run or a one-hopper to the wall.
"The bottom line is (McNeil) has the knack of being able to barrel the baseball," his hitting coach added.
In either case, even with his recent decrease in average, entering Wednesday's game McNeil was on pace to finish 2019 hitting with 21 homers and 39 doubles, while hitting roughly .325 with a .390 OBP and .530 SLG while consistently starting in left field, third base, or second base.
McNeil has proven to be a legit weapon, versatile hitter and everyday threat, who at some point in his career will win a batting title. It may or may not happen this season, but it will one day.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!