No knob, no problem: McNeil swears by odd bat

Guillorme discusses talent for making contact; Plawecki to see uptick in playing time

August 4th, 2018

NEW YORK -- Clustered in a rack on one end of the Mets' dugout, different players' bats are typically identifiable only by the numbers stuck to their knobs and the names on the barrels. But one group of bats, belonging to Jeff McNeil, stands out.
Unlike nearly every other player in Major League Baseball, McNeil uses a bat with no knob. Instead of mushrooming out near the bottom, McNeil's lumber widens gradually toward the end. Although his bats are of average size -- 34 inches, 32 ounces -- McNeil says the unorthodox weight distribution gives him more control.
"It just feels lighter because it's so balanced," McNeil said. "The weight's throughout the bat. It's not all in the barrel."
McNeil initially began using the model in 2016, when Mets Minor League hitting coordinator Lamar Johnson handed them out to a group of Minor Leaguers. Instantly, McNeil liked the feel of his, hitting a home run in one of his first at-bats with it. He used it exclusively from that point forward.

In practice, Mets hitting coach Pat Roessler said, the bat's unorthodox shape makes little difference. It's simply a matter of "personal comfort" for McNeil, who hit .342 over two Minor League levels this season before earning a recent promotion to the big leagues. In earlier eras, the bat style was more popular; McNeil says Roberto Clemente used the same model for a portion of his career. But it is almost unheard of in today's game.
"I've had a few guys go, 'How do you hold that? How do you use that bat?'" McNeil said. "It feels light to me. If I pick up anybody else's bat, it feels really heavy."
No whiffing here
Entering Saturday's play, Mets infielder held the longest active streak in MLB without a strikeout, putting the ball in play in 49 consecutive plate appearances. In an era in which hitters are striking out more frequently than ever, Guillorme is a throwback; his three whiffs on the season are the fewest of any of the 424 Major Leaguers with at least 70 plate appearances.
"I've always been good at putting the bat on the ball," said Guillorme, who is batting .203 with a .516 OPS. "It's kind of like a blessing and a curse, because if I swing early at a bad pitch, nine out of 10 times I'm going to hit it. A lot of people, that pitch in the dirt, they're missing it. I'm hitting a weak grounder. So I feel like it helps me out a lot of times, but at the same time, it hurts me from time to time."

Part of Guillorme's propensity to put the ball in play stems from the fact that many of his at-bats have come as a pinch-hitter. Particularly late in games against hard-throwing relievers, Guillorme says, he tries not to fall behind in counts or take borderline two-strike pitches.
Although the Mets have had opportunities to start the slick-fielding Guillorme in recent games, manager Mickey Callaway said they want to continue using him off the bench, realizing that is likely to be his role in future seasons.
Early work
Citi Field played host to an unusual scene about four hours prior to game time Saturday, when almost every player on the active roster took the field for defensive fundamental drills. Pitching coach Dave Eiland likes his players to take fielding practice once per homestand, but this time, Callaway sent his infielders out to join them in working on bunt defense.
"Obviously, we haven't controlled the running game adequately enough lately, so we wanted to just add that in as well," Callaway said.

Catch the wave
On the short end of a catching timeshare for much of the past two months, made his fourth start in five games on Saturday. That was by design, said Callaway, who intends to use the remainder of the season to see how the 27-year-old Plawecki fares with increased playing time.
Unlike , who can be a free agent after the season and may not re-sign, Plawecki is a sure part of the Mets' 2019 plans. The question is whether he profiles as an everyday option -- he entered Saturday's play batting .231 with a .717 OPS -- or a backup.
"I think we need to see exactly what Plawecki can do," Callaway said, "so his playing time might go up a tad."
Pride night
The Mets teamed up with the LGBT Network to host their third annual Pride Night on Saturday, with a portion of each ticket sale going to support the LGBT Network's anti-bullying programs in Long Island and New York City schools.