Welcome back to the Mets Beat newsletter! Anthony DiComo is on vacation this week, so this is Mike Petriello, an analyst for MLB.com, filling in.
In Jeff McNeil’s first three seasons, he had a 139 OPS+, well above the Major League average of 100. In 2022 he had a nearly identical 140 OPS+, which gives you confidence that you can ignore his disappointing 2021 (87 OPS+) and expect similar production going forward.
That might yet be true, except baseball as you know it won’t look the same going forward, will it? Thanks to a handful of new rule changes like the pitch clock, larger bases, a limit on pickoffs and a partial ban on infield shifts, hitters and pitchers alike are going to need to adjust. So how, for example, might the new positioning rules affect McNeil, one of the best bat-control artists in the sport, coming off a year when his .326 average led the Majors?
It’s going to be one of the more fascinating subplots of the season, because McNeil isn’t the typical slow-footed, pull-heavy, powerful lefty who is normally shifted against, and he had the fifth-most opposite or up-the-middle singles in baseball in 2022. In theory, putting a limit on the way that teams can defend against him should only help his case, opening room on the right side.
But on the other hand, McNeil just destroyed the shift, didn’t he? McNeil’s .426 Batting Average on Balls in Play (i.e., batting average without homers, so just looking at in-play balls the defense can try to get to) was not only the highest in the Majors, it was well higher than his still-good .323 against standard infield defenses, which he saw nearly 80 percent of the time.
McNeil’s skill at beating the shift became so celebrated that when he would roll opposite-field hits against it, it became harder to believe why opponents would even bother. “It just kind of makes you wonder why they keep doing it, that’s just him playing pepper there,” marveled the SNY broadcast after one such hit against the Braves in early May. Later in the month, it was the same: “How many times does he have to do it before they make the adjustment?” asked Gary Cohen.
Now the league has made the adjustment for the teams. But the tradeoff between “more space on the right side” (via the ban on three-infielder setups) and “less space on the left side” (because now two fielders are mandated to be there, when often it was just one) provides for a very interesting strategic approach question, and a recent Statcast analysis suggested that applying McNeil’s 2022 batted balls to 2023 rules wouldn’t necessarily add hits, given that he was so much better against the shift in the first place.
McNeil, however, will adjust. We know that some lefty batters won’t care, being unwilling or unable to worry about the defense, instead just hitting the ball as hard as they can and letting the chips fall where they may. That’s not his game. How he attempts to change things up to attack the new defense -- or if he ends up missing the shift -- will be a fun project to watch in 2023.
Carlos Correa’s eventful offseason reached a resolution on Wednesday, when he was officially (re)introduced by the Twins. Correa’s agreement with the Mets, just as it did with the Giants, fell through after the club reportedly raised concerns about Correa’s right ankle, which was surgically repaired in 2014.
The two sides attempted to renegotiate the agreement before Correa chose to accept a six-year, $200 million contract offer from Minnesota that also includes a vesting option for four additional seasons.
As for the Mets, this could accelerate Brett Baty’s path to the Majors as the team considers how to move forward at third base. Eduardo Escobar, who started 125 games at third base for the Mets last season, also remains on the roster.
NO HEAT, NO PROBLEM FOR RALEY
How has new Mets reliever Brooks Raley managed to stick on some of baseball’s best pitching teams (Houston in 2020-’21, Tampa Bay in 2022, now New York in 2023) despite fastball velocity that barely scrapes 90 mph on a good day? By preventing loud contact at an elite rate.
Consider this: In the three seasons since Raley returned from Korea, he’s one of 337 pitchers to allow at least 300 batted balls, and his hard-hit rate allowed is the best. The best. Not a single pitcher has allowed a lower hard-hit rate than his 25 percent, and that means that three-quarters of the time he allows contact, it’s bad contact, which is a valuable skill.
He does that, in part, by having above-average movement on every one of his four primary pitches, in some cases in multiple directions. For example, his slider moves nearly eight inches more horizontally than other sliders at his velocity, which is tied for a top-5 mark -- and his changeup (+3 inches more), cutter (+2 inches more) and sinker (+2 inches more) are all above-average, too. Now, realize that his changeup also drops 5 inches more than average and his sinker sinks 5 inches more than average, and suddenly you realize why he’s so difficult to square up -- and why very good teams keep employing a nearly 35-year-old soft-tosser.
THIS WEEK IN METS HISTORY
Jan. 16, 1986: General manager Frank Cashen put one of the finishing touches on what would become a World Series-winning roster when he acquired Tim Teufel in a five-player deal that sent Billy Beane, among others, to the Twins. Teufel settled in as the right-handed half of a valuable second-base platoon with Wally Backman. He wound up spending four and a half seasons with the Mets, then spent many years following his playing days as a coach in the organization.
FORWARDED FROM A FRIEND? SUBSCRIBE NOW
To subscribe to Mets Beat, visit this page and mark "Mets Beat" from our newsletter list. Make sure you're following the Mets or that they're checked as your favorite team.