WASHINGTON — Jeff McNeil knew his defensive metrics were supportive, but was somewhat surprised Tuesday to learn how good they’ve been this season.
As measured by a popular statistic, above-average strikeouts, McNeil was the Mets’ best defensive player.
“We have great defensemen and I think we’re playing well, team defense, but that’s a bit of a surprise,” McNeil said before the Mets started a three-game series against the Nationals.
McNeil was more than three outs over average as a second baseman, according to the baseball scholar and responsible for saving two runs. As a left fielder, he was league average at zero.
Breaking down the numbers in more detail, McNeil had 62 attempts as a second baseman and his estimated success rate was 75%. His actual success rate was 79%. In left field, he had 23 attempts and his estimated success rate was 94%. His actual success rate was 96%. Overall, he ranked in the 93rd percentile in MLB for above-average outs.
Such strong metrics might come as a surprise to a player who has been known primarily for batting throughout his career. But McNeil has brought a reliable glove to the field, especially over the past two seasons. Last year, he finished with more than five over-average outs, as a second baseman and left fielder.
McNeil’s versatility remains an important element in allowing manager Buck Showalter to mix up his roster, first by giving opportunities to Robinson Cano – the veteran infielder was released on Sunday after a DFA earlier in the week – and more recently with Luis Guillorme at second base.
“I think what impresses me is [McNeil] goes out in left field and he doesn’t miss a beat on the way back,” Showalter said. “I was told when he came in he could go back and forth and it was a plus for us to give some guys a few days.”
McNeil entered the game with a .323/.387/.448 slash line, with the team’s best batting average. He’d like to think he’s made up for all the disappointing days at the plate this season with his glove.
“There are definitely days when you don’t have a good day at the plate, so you have to help the team somehow and defensively you make good plays,” McNeil said. “I think I’m the type of guy if I’m not good at home plate I don’t want anybody else to be good at the other team’s home plate so I try to make every play that I can and I will it hurts them too.
McNeil had minus-2 over-average as a third baseman in 2020 and has largely avoided the position the past two seasons.
“That third base spot is my least comfortable position,” McNeil said. “Just knowing it’s going to be second field or left field makes it easier to just focus on those and get really good at those.”
Although McNeil barely played the outfield in the minor leagues, his college experience — he played left, center and right at Long Beach State — served him well with the Mets.
“In the minor leagues, I tried to play outfield as much as possible, they only saw me as an infielder,” McNeil said. “Even in the minor leagues, I took fly balls almost every day, trying to go because I knew that would probably be the best way to get to the big leagues.”