Part two of our annual Dodgers season grades series. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look back, recap, and grade our boys in blue position by position and identify areas they can continue to work on next season.
Part one can be found here: 2021 Catchers Grades
Next position up: First Base.
Dodgers First Base Grades: Albert Pujols, Max Muncy & More! Was a Good Pujols Signing? Muncy Elite?
2021 Grade: A-
2020 Grade: B-
For Max Muncy, the 2021 season was really a tale of two seasons with a cliffhanger at the end. In the first half, Max dominated the league to the tune of a .972 OPS. He earned his second straight NL All-Star selection (reminder: there was no ASG in 2020) while leading the Dodgers in most offensive categories.
Then the second half happened.
While his .809 OPS was still among the team leaders in LA, he slipped in almost every single offensive category.
By The Numbers
First half: .270/.414/.559, 19, 52 RBI, 58 BB, 57 SO, 78 G
Second half: .228/.315/.494, 17, 42 RBI, 25 BB, 63 SO, 66 G
The biggest area where Muncy’s game changed is with his eye at the plate. After being in the top-3 in baseball in walks in the first half, he took fewer walks and swung at more pitches out of the zone, as his jump in strikeouts shows. From August 1 to the end of the regular season, his K% jumped from 17.6% to 24.9% and his walk rate dropped from 17.6% to 8.8%.
The aforementioned cliffhanger for Max Muncy’s season happened in the final game of the regular season when he suffered a dislocated elbow and other ligament damage in a collision at first base. It ended his year on the spot. Without Muncy in the lineup, the Dodgers struggled mightily to produce runs in the postseason and fell 4 games to 2 to the eventual world champion Atlanta Braves.
Where can Muncy improve?
Altogether, the 30-year-old put together a season he can be proud of. He was the Dodgers’ most potent offensive threat for most of the year, but when he came out of his game plan, he struggled hard by his standards. The only area he can improve upon in 2022 is season-long consistency. But, his biggest challenge will certainly be how much that elbow injury affects him not only with the bat, but on defense. Especially if he ends up seeing more time at second base in a Freddie Freeman signing scenario.
2021 Grade: A
2020 Grade: N/A
When the Dodgers signed Albert Pujols back in May, it was a bit of a head scratcher. The 41-year-old had been a below league-average hitter for the last four-plus seasons and, with a .198 average at the time of his release from the Angels, wasn’t showing really any promise in his 21st MLB season.
Boy did he prove that narrative wrong.
In 85 games with the Dodgers, he hit just .254 but he absolutely crushed left-handed pitchers — an area where LA has struggled for years. After his May trade, Pujols hit over .300 versus left-handers and connected on 11 of his 12 home runs in Dodger blue. But perhaps his biggest addition to the team was in the clubhouse where players heralded the future hall of famer’s mix of chemistry to the team.
Where can Pujols improve?
The best way Pujols can improve at this stage of his career is to hang up the spikes and join a team as a coach or member of the front office. He’ll be 42 in January and not overly likely to find lightning in a bottle for a second straight season.
If he does find an opportunity to play in 2022, Let’s hope it’s not with the Dodgers. Keep the legacy of the summer of tío Albert intact.
2021 Grade: C+
2020 Grade: C-
When Matt Beaty was given opportunities to play, he often capitalized. He hit .270/.363/.402 on the season but those numbers jumped to .290/.372/420 in games where he started. Of course, the story with Beaty in 2021 is that he wasn’t given very many opportunities to play. When Max Muncy was lost for the season, Matt was given the first crack at playing time, but after going hitless in his first 6 at-bats, that was all she wrote for him.
The 28-year-old started the third-most games at first base for the Dodgers last season, but that was only 16 games. Of those 16 games, he stayed in for the whole game just 4 times. LA’s treatment or use of Beaty is absolutely baffling and you hope for the sake of the player that he’s traded anywhere else before the start of next season.
Where can Beaty improve?
Get out of Los Angeles and hope for the best.
2021 Grade: inc.
2020 Grade: C-
Ríos started the year slowly and only got worse from there. The man they call Big Daddy hit just .078 over 60 plate appearances before it was revealed that a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery would end his season. In 2020, he was a standout for the world champion Dodgers, flashing prodigious power (.645 slg%) in the short season.
Where can Ríos improve?
Put every aspect of 2021 behind him and look ahead to 2022. He was injured and what we saw last season was indicative of that. If he’s healthy, he’ll get a crack at a bench spot on the 26-man roster with the idea that he be the primary backup at third base for Justin Turner and first for Muncy. The likely re-introduction of the universal designated hitter in 2022 plays up for the Puerto Rican slugger.
Cut back on the strikeouts and increase the walk rate and we may have a serviceable major leaguer on our hands.
And The Rest
The rest of the players who saw time at first base will be covered in other editions of the grades series.