You might read that title and think I’m crazy, but hear me out before drawing any conclusions. Is New York Mets outfielder Jeff McNeil the next Ichiro Suzuki?
You may think it’s a stretch for me to compare New York Mets third baseman Jeff McNeil to future Hall-of-Famer Ichiro Suzuki, but it’s not a stretch for the opening 815 career plate appearances, that is.
During the first weeks of my quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, I, like many of you, have scoured the deep dark depths of Twitter trying to find amusing videos and “hot take” opinion pieces, plus the latest updates on COVID-19.
In these late-night searches, I found this Tweet:
At first, I was dismissive saying there was absolutely no way Jeff McNeil is in the same breath as 10x All-Star Ichiro, but then I looked the numbers up myself, and they proved to be true.
In his first season with the Seattle Mariners at age 27, Ichiro batted .350 in a lineup that featured three other batters hitting over .300, including Hall-of-Famer Edgar Martinez. In 2001, the phenom from Japan took home American League Rookie of the Year honors, AL MVP, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, was named to the AL All-Star team, and won the AL Batting Title. People knew Ichiro was good.
Mets fans may not have heard of the organization’s 12th round selection in the 2013 MLB Amateur Player’s Draft until his debut in the latter half of the 2018 season.
Amongst 10 players with 250+ plate appearances on the Amazins 2018 roster, no batter hit higher than .277 (Asdrubal Cabrera, who was traded to the Phillies after 98 games), Amed Rosario led the team with 142 hits.
In 248 plate appearances, McNeil, A.K.A., the “Flying Squirrel” hit .329 with 74 hits, which was good enough for seventh on the team, he also stole seven bases which ranked fourth on the Mets, and he did so at 26-years old.
Some called it beginners luck, but he followed his first stint, where he placed sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, with a stellar sophomore campaign for the New York Mets. Like Ichiro, McNeil batted over .300 and received an All-Star nod.
In the tweet mentioned above, Ichiro leads McNeil in batting average (.348 vs. .321) and On-Base-Percentage by one point (.384 vs. .381). However, McNeil crushes Ichiro in slugging percentage (.513 vs. .456). The Santa Barbara, California native, has 26 careers home runs against Ichiro’s 16 in their first two seasons.
Both players have unique approaches to the plate, so diving into the advanced analytics of attempting to compare their first two seasons, Ichiro leads in a category gaining more notoriety amongst front offices and fans alike, BABIP.
FANGRAPHS explains the stat:
"Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. A ball is “in play” when the plate appearance ends in something other than a strikeout, walk, hit batter, catcher’s interference, sacrifice bunt, or home run. In other words, the batter put the ball in play and it didn’t clear the outfield fence."
Ichiro notched a .369 BABIP in his rookie year, followed by a .344 in his second season. McNeil had a .359 BABIP in his first season and a .337 in his sophomore campaign. So that’s great and all, but what do these stats mean? When either one of them puts the ball in play, they are highly effective.
Before the Majors
McNeil, who played college baseball at California State University, Long Beach, spent seven seasons in the minors before his nod to The Show. He owns a Minor League slash line of .311/ .380/ .442 in 428 games.
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Ichiro made his debut for the Orix Blue Wave of the Japanese Pacific League in 1992 at 18-years-old. In 951 games (more than twice the games of McNeil), the three-time Silver Slugger owned a .353/ .421/ .522 slash line.
With one career off to a blossoming start and another set for enshrinement in Cooperstown, numbers tell the beginning of the story. It’s up to McNeil to write the rest of the story with a Hall-worthy career.
So like I said, the initial thought of comparing Jeff McNeil, who has played only 196 MLB games, to All-Time-Great, Ichiro Suzuki, is crazy, but once you dive into it, it’s not THAT far-fetched.
What do you think of the Jeff McNeil/ Ichiro comparison? Let us know in the comments section below or on social media.