As the Dodgers’ roster is currently constructed, they don’t have a “traditional” leadoff hitter. The favorite to leadoff is A.J. Pollock, but I already discussed why that wouldn’t be ideal, and Joc Pederson, who also isn’t ideal.
But they do have the perfect leadoff hitter on their roster: Max Muncy.
Muncy, a 28-year-old, left-handed hitter, broke out in a big way during the 2018 season. He hit .263/.391/.582 with 35 home runs, a .407 wOBA, and 5.2 WAR. His offensive production was 62 percent better than league average, according to his wRC+. He was one of the top hitters in baseball last season, and while it was a fairly small sample of 137 games and 481 PA’s, it’s really hard to fake that kind of season. Even with some regression, he’s still an elite hitter.
So what makes Muncy the perfect leadoff hitter? His on-base skills, power, and speed.
Muncy gets on base; A lot. Last season, he was on base 39 percent of his plate appearances. That would put him just behind Justin Turner for second on the team. His on-base percentage is fueled by his 16.4 percent walk rate so even if his average is lower than most people would want, he’d likely still post a quality on-base percentage. He’s shown the discipline to take walks throughout the minors so there is no reason it should change now.
A player getting on base that much, with Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Turner, and Pollock behind him, is going to score a lot of runs.
Last season, the Dodgers used a lot of low on-base players, which likely hurt their offense and decreased their run-scoring abilities. They shouldn’t go back to using a .320 OBP near the top of their lineup.
Some people might say Muncy strikes out too much or his average is too low to leadoff, but neither of those matter when he’s still getting on base at a rate comparable to the top players in the game. The goal for a leadoff hitter is to get on base any way possible; Muncy does that.
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Traditionally, power out of the leadoff spot has always been looked down on. Now, more teams are enjoying the idea of having some pop to open the game.
The leadoff hitter also gets the most at-bats on the team. Giving those extra at-bats to a player who can put himself in scoring position, or even bring himself in on one swing, just maximizes run-scoring potential.
The Dodgers have so much power in their lineup, Muncy’s power won’t be “wasted” by leading him off.
The Dodgers already bought into the idea of power out of the leadoff spot last season when they used Pederson there. Now, they can perfect it.
Muncy looks slow, but he isn’t. According to Statcast’s sprint speed metric, Muncy is in the 63 percentile of the league average speed and he’s the fifth fastest Dodger on the roster with a 27.6 feet per second speed.
He won’t steal 30 bags, but the Dodgers don’t steal much anyways, and he won’t even need to with all the extra base hits he will provide.
The idea that a leadoff hitter has to be fast is also a flawed one. A leadoff hitter’s job is to get on base. Stealing bases is nice but it doesn’t increase run expectancy by a large amount (+0.21 runs) while getting caught drops run expectancy by a lot (-.59 runs).
Muncy is fast enough where he won’t “clog” the bases and he’s fast enough to take an extra base on a hit. He has more than enough speed to fill the leadoff role.
Max Muncy’s skill set doesn’t make him a traditional leadoff hitter but it does make him the ideal leadoff hitter. If he regresses a lot, they can always drop him down in the order, or even out of the lineup. But as of right now, with opening day just a few days away, Muncy needs to leadoff for the team starting on day one. They can’t go back to .320-.330 on-base players at the top of their lineup anymore.
- (L) Max Muncy 1B
- (R) Justin Turner 3B
- (L) Corey Seager SS
- (R) A.J. Pollock CF
- (L) Cody Bellinger RF
- (R) Enrique Hernandez 2B
- (L) Joc Pederson/(R) Chris Taylor LF
- (R) Austin Barnes C