The Dodgers Are Relying Max Muncy in 2019

I think I belong to the 99.9% of Dodgers fans when I say that I did not see Max Muncy coming. Not much was expected from a guy that had accumulated just over 200 at-bats across 96 major league games prior to 2018. And yet here we are, the end of January and already discussing Max Muncy as a starting infielder in Los Angeles.

Ever since his call up in early 2018, Muncy has shown that he can perform at the big league level. Just a 195 hitter with 5 home runs from 2015-2016, Muncy changed everything about his approach. The results were phenomenal, to say the least.  Muncy didn’t show much in his first month of action. He went 6 for 29 and hit 2 home runs, but nothing special. May was when the team started to realize the talent they had stumbled upon.

Muncy hit 261 in May and crushed five home runs with a chance to play more regularly. His bat exploded in June, hitting .289 to go along with his ten long balls. Muncy would finish the season slashing .263/.391/.582 with 35 home runs, 79 RBI, and even a few MVP votes. He quieted down a bit towards the end of the season, but hit 2 pivotal home runs during the playoffs, including one in the 18-inning thriller.

The question for 2019 is whether or not Max Muncy can replicate that success. Which player is the REAL Max Muncy? Is he the guy who bounced around in the minor leagues and struggled int he big leagues for six years? Or is he the hero that we saw take Nathan Eovaldi deep in the World Series? Dave Roberts seems to think it’s the latter.

There’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment. I think that against a lefty in the second half he really curtailed. But I talked to him a couple of weeks ago and he’s in great shape, he’s a very intelligent baseball player and he knows the strike zone very well.

So to bet on him having a follow-up season like that (2018) I think it’s a fair ask. That still remains to be seen, because this league is very good and they exploit weaknesses. But his ability to differentiate between strike and ball is a huge plus for him.

A History of Success

There are basically two schools of thought when wondering how 2019 will go for Muncy. Fans often refer to project hitters such as Chris Taylor and Justin Turner, both of whom the Dodgers coaches completely turned around. Turner was a career .260 hitter with eight home runs across five seasons before heading to Los Angeles. Since then, he has hit .305 and averaged close to 20 home runs a year while picking up a $64 million contract.

Chris Taylor has a similar story to Max Muncy in that he did not have much major league experience. He was a .240 hitter in Seattle and did not hit one home run there. An offseason working with the Dodgers’ coaching staff changed that very quickly. Taylor hit .288 in 2017 including an unprecedented 21 home runs. He has gone deep 38 times across two seasons in Los Angeles.

The Other Side of Things

While some successes have stuck, there have also been examples of rapid declines. Cody Bellinger was not a bad hitter by any means in 2018, but he certainly took a step back. Bellinger slugged 39 home runs in just 132 games in 2018 to go along with .267/.352/.581 stat line. His OPS+ of 143 was one of the best in the National League and his wRC+ of 138 was the fifth best amongst rookies.

2018 was a different story for Cody. He hit 280 in the first full month but hit a lowly .180 the following month. The rest of the season followed a similar pattern of hitting hot steaks and slumping badly. Bellinger finished up with a slash line of .260/.343/.470 and 25 home runs across 162 games.

Muncy’s Outlook

One of the best things about baseball is that you never know what’s going to happen. There’s plenty of excitement looking ahead to the 2019 season, but I don’t think there is a more exciting storyline than Max Muncy. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts, especially if he is given more playing time. Muncy only played in 137 games in the 2018 season, but I am hoping for 150+ next year.

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