Nationals' First Half Story: Joey Meneses' Lack of Power

Joey Meneses, the silver lining from last year's National's team has struggled so far in his sophomore season. Will the Second Half of the season be more of the same or will he tap into that power surge he discovered prior to the All Star Break?
Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

The Nationals offense has struggled so far this year and ranks 26th in the majors in runs scored, largely due to a lack of power up and down the lineup. Despite ranking 5th in batting average, the Nats are 21st in slugging percentage, 19th in OPS, and 28th in home runs. They get a lot of hits, but those hits don’t result in many runs because they are primarily singles.

Before the start of the season, it was clear that power was going to be a problem for this lineup, but there was hope that Joey Meneses could provide at least something close to his power output from his impressive 2022 season in which he had a .930 OPS, .239 ISO (isolate power) and 13 home runs in only 222 at-bats.

Despite his recent home run barrage which saw him hit 4 dingers in the last series before the All-Star break, this season he’s struggled to the tune of a .732 OPS, .120 ISO and has only hit 6 home runs through 357 plate appearances. He’s gotten plenty of hits, with an AVG. of .284, but his lackluster 98 WRC+ (with league average WRC+ of 100) shows he needs to be doing more damage with his hits, especially serving primarily as the team’s DH and presumed power hitter.

Joey Meneses has a long track record in professional baseball, playing in the minor leagues since 2011, when he was 19 years old. However, trying to diagnose why he completely forgot how to hit for any power this year is difficult because almost all of his professional at-bats took place in the minor leagues, which don’t have as much batted ball data as the major leagues. Though diving into his brief time in the MLB along with his long minor league track record starts to paint a picture of what type of a hitter Joey Meneses is.

His 2022 MLB season gave us a look at his batted ball data through statcast for the first time in his career. My personal favorite statcast metric is barrel percentage, which is defined as a batted ball with “an exit velocity of at least 98 mph” and “a launch angle between 26-30 degrees.” Basically, a “barrel” is an at bat that results in hitting the ball very hard at a launch angle that leads to the best results. So, barrel rate is simply how often a hitter “barrels” a ball.

Joey Meneses had a barrel rate of 9.9% in 2022, which put him in the same range as perennial all-stars Freddie Freeman, Manny Machado, and Michael Harris II. There’s more to a hitter than just his barrel rate, but on balls put in play by Meneses in 2022, Meneses’ was in excellent company.

Compare that to his 2023 results so far when his barrel rate has cratered to only 6.1%, which puts him in the company of fellow Nat Dom Smith (5.7% barrel rate). A 6.1% barrel rate isn’t necessarily a horrible rate, but it’s a steep drop off from his prior production that had him in line with players like Freeman, Machado, and Harris.

Unfortunately, we don’t have career barrel rates for Joey Meneses from his time in the minor leagues, but Fangraphs does provide some other data for each of his minor league seasons.

His surface level batted ball stats start to show why he’s struggling this year. His groundball percentage this year (51%) is up from where is has been over his past five seasons (43%) and his infield flyball percentage (the worst batted ball result) is way up this year at 17%, much higher than his past averages around 10%. From these stats, it’s not hard to see why he’s struggled this year. Hitting 68% of your batted balls on the ground or as pop-ups to infielders doesn’t leave a lot of room to hit for power, which requires hitting the ball in the air out of the infield.

None of the this should come as a surprise to Nats fans who have watched Meneses make a lot of weak contact this year and struggle to get the ball in the air. Too many times, Meneses works a good at-bat and gets a great pitch to hit but end ups putting the ball on the ground. He still has a solid batting average so many of those ground balls turn into hits, but the Nats need more from their DH than ground ball singles.   

There’s a chance that big league pitchers have figured something out about his swing and have been taking advantage of it this year. After all, last year was his rookie season and most pitchers were seeing him for the first time. Or its possible he’s just been in a slump and his home run barrage over the weekend was him finally making the necessary adjustments to get out of it. Yet, it’s helpful to remember that Joey Meneses was a minor league journeyman before last year. There is a reason he did not make his MLB debut until his age-30 season. He is a solid, albeit slightly below average MLB hitter who offers no defensive value as a primary DH. He put up great numbers last year but the point in time when we could unironically compare Meneses’ numbers to Juan Soto’s is over. It iss most likely that the hitter we are seeing now in 2023 is closer to the real Joey Meneses than the hitter was saw at the end of 2022.