Why Nationals’ Joey Meneses has had a dream season

Do you have already got a favourite Joey Meneses second? Was it when he homered in his main league debut, when the Washington Nationals had simply traded Juan Soto and also you had by no means heard of this 30-year-old rookie from Culiacán, Mexico? Was it his inside-the-parker in opposition to the Miami Marlins, watching him chug round third with heavy legs earlier than crossing house with that sly smile on his face?

Was it his walk-off shot in opposition to the Oakland Athletics? Was it earlier that week, when he punched 4 doubles in the identical sport? Was it on Wednesday afternoon in Atlanta, as soon as Meneses crushed a second-deck homer that delivered a win and will have materials results on the National League East race.

Or possibly your favourite second is true now, realizing it is — [checks notes] late September — and Meneses continues to be hitting, his batting common nonetheless .328, his on-base-plus-slugging proportion nonetheless .927 and residential run whole at 10 in 43 video games.

“I can not say sufficient about what Joey’s been doing for us since he is been right here,” Manager Dave Martinez stated after Meneses went 7-for-12 within the sequence with the Braves, together with an intentional stroll to load the bases in back- to-back video games. “He’s been hitting balls … doubles, homers, getting on base, taking part in good protection.”

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Since he was referred to as up on Aug. 2, Meneses has stuffed seven weeks with questions that start with “how.” How did he spend a decade in skilled baseball earlier than somebody gave him a probability at its highest degree? How does he preserve hitting? And maybe most significantly: How would possibly he match into the Nationals’ roster for 2023?

The solutions, in fact, are layered and generally difficult. Before the Nationals signed him to a minor league deal final winter, Meneses had performed for the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox, usually discovering himself blocked by dudes named Freddie Freeman and Rhys Hoskins. In 2018, he smacked 23 homers for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the Phillies’ Class AAA affiliate, and earned a $1 million cope with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan.

Things had been trying up then. Meneses’s pockets was actually heavier. But 29 video games into the season, he examined optimistic for Stanozolol, a banned substance. Meneses contends he was unknowingly injected with the substance when a physician in Mexico gave him nutritional vitamins the earlier winter. He and his agent, Francis Marquez, appealed the one-year suspension to no avail, leaving Meneses to rejoin his hometown workforce in Mexico.

The 2020 minor league season was quickly canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Feeling extra down than ever, questioning if his profession was completed, Meneses signed with the Red Sox in 2021 earlier than the Nationals took a flier on him. His cope with Washington didn’t embrace an invitation to spring coaching or a assure that Meneses would play for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. He was a minor league vet who had to show himself.

“The solely time Joey appeared mad, and solely very briefly, was once we could not get him a spring coaching invite this 12 months,” Marquez stated this week. “I felt the identical approach. I actually needed to get him a possibility in a massive league camp and thought he deserved it. But then he shortly referred to as me again and was like, ‘Okay, let’s go. Let’s do it. I’ll do it.’ That’s Joey for you.”

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As for his continued manufacturing, Meneses is crushing breaking balls in September. Like actually, actually crushing breaking balls.

What most attracted the Nationals to Meneses was his contact capability, feeling it was a leaping off level to unlock extra energy. In previous seasons, Meneses slumped when he hit too many groundballs. His bat stays within the zone for a whereas — a nice trait for any hitter — however a flatter swing path made it laborious to raise contact to line drives and flyballs persistently.

The equation, then, is straightforward in idea if not in follow: Meneses has improved the vertical angle of his swing, thus rising his launch angle to the purpose of hitting extra line drives with out popping balls straight up, thus rising his probabilities of doing harm when he makes contact. A much less flat bat path can also be linked to his early success in opposition to sliders and curves.

In August, Meneses posted a .211 slugging proportion in opposition to sliders. But in September, that quantity ballooned to .579, with pitchers faring even worse once they throw curveballs. Month to month, he has reduce his whiff price on sliders by about eight proportion factors. He has a .526 batting common in opposition to curves this season.

Of his 10 homers, three have come in opposition to curves, three in opposition to four-seam fastballs and one off a slider, sinker, change-up and splitter. A excessive batting common on balls in play — .374 — suggests there can be some regression down the road.

“That capability is one thing I’ve developed simply with expertise via the years,” Meneses stated via a workforce interpreter of dealing with sliders and curves so nicely, including he is seen extra sliders after pitchers leaned on fastballs in opposition to him early on. “Even although I do not search for breaking pitches over the plate, I simply react to them.”

An essential disclaimer right here: All of those statistics are from a small pattern. Teams will prod Meneses’s swing and plate method till they discover an exploitable gap. That is what they do, particularly when unknown rookies get sizzling, and a telling measure can be how Meneses adjusts to no matter counter adjustment is subsequent.

But with every passing sport and hit, Meneses provides a scoop of validity to what he is doing. He has 187 plate appearances to his title. At the second, his solely evident chilly zone is up and in. And whereas most of his energy has come on middle-in pitches, he is complemented that by usually flicking exterior pitches to the other discipline for singles.

With so some ways for followers and groups to judge gamers, there will be a tendency to shrug off one thing that does not really feel predictive. Joey Meneses, although, is sweet. It’s okay to simply take pleasure in that.

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