What in the world is that bat?
For those of you who don’t know who Jeff McNeil is, he is an energetic utility player for the New York Mets. McNeil, a 12th round pick of the Mets in 2013, was called up last July and has been a staple in the lineup since. So far this season, McNeil is hitting .331 justifying his spot in the lineup and proving himself to be a legitimate contender for a batting title. While his early numbers have been impressive, recent injuries have sidelined this breakout player; he hopes to be back for June.
With just 3 home runs this season, it is clear McNeil’s specialty is consistent contact, not power. One unique aspect of McNeil’s game is the unusual baseball bat configuration that McNeil sports every time he steps in the box. Instead of a traditional bat with a knob shaped like a mushroom, McNeil uses a bat with no knob. His bat gradually widens towards the bottom, helping distribute weight more evenly. When asked about his bat at McNeil responded, "It just feels lighter because it's so balanced." This sheds light on a major aspect of hitting preferences among baseball players of all ages: the type of feel a bat conveys in a hitter's hands. Some swear by swinging wood that is top-heavy to maximize the weight thrown at the baseball while others prefer something a bit more balanced (so the bat as a whole feels lighter). McNeil's lumber gives new meaning to the concept of the balanced bat.
According to McNeil, this type of handle shape enables the hitter to have better bat control, something the .331 hitter clearly has demonstrated himself to be crafty with through out the first month of the season. Consistent with the strategy pursued by using an innovative bat like this, Jeff McNeil plays to his strengths; he doesn’t generate overwhelming power at the plate (he had just 28 total homeruns in minors) but is an exceptional contact hitter and using a balanced bat with no knob complements his game nicely. McNeil understands his strengths and it has made him one of the top hitters in baseball.
Hitting philosophy today is perhaps more controversial, contradictory, and dynamic than it has ever been before. Concepts like the "launch angle" and other components of one's hitting approach have emerged as the focal point of hitting and more importantly, refining one's swing path to provide for optimal explosiveness. While the debate over power maximization and back-spin creation rages on among instructors, coaches, and athletes, an example like this offers keen insight into what is truly valuable within a hitter: consistency. Last year, Jeff McNeil hit .329 and is sustaining yet another year with an average over .300. He's not the biggest guy, nor does he exhibit overwhelming ability in any gradable category. However, McNeil can do one thing extraordinarily well and that is hit for average. If a guy can do that, he's always going to find himself in the lineup.
Jeff McNeil's unique bat is produced by Dove Tail Bats of Maine. It can be found at the link below: