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Turns out, Max Muncy’s 2018 wasn’t a fluke

He can hit and play defense at an All-Star level

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest questions surrounding the Dodgers coming into the 2019 season had to be that of Max Muncy and whether his 2018 was a fluke. This question being asked about Chris Taylor before the ‘18 season after his great 2017 campaign.

We’re more than two months into the season and Muncy is proving that his production last season was not fluky and appears to be quite sustainable.

Muncy ended the 2018 season with a .263/.391/.582 batting line with a 162 wRC+ and an eye-popping 5.2 fWAR. Not only that, he had an MLB-best .319 isolated power (minimum 450 plate appearances). On most teams, he’d have been the best player by a good margin, and while he led the Dodgers in WAR last season, I’m not sure how many would have claimed he was their best player.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Colorado Rockies
Muncy ended the 2018 season with a .263/.391/.582 batting line with a 162 wRC+ and an eye-popping 5.2 fWAR.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

What’s most impressive about Muncy this season is some of his batted ball numbers are down a bit from last season. He’s hitting more line drives (which is good), but his ground ball rate is up two points and his fly ball rate is down more than six points. His hard contact rate is also down almost three points. Those numbers would usually mean some more serious regression, but before Wednesday night’s game, Muncy was hitting .284/.383/.547 with a 144 wRC+ and a 2.9 WAR. His wRC+ and WAR is Top 15 in all of baseball. He has hit up and down the Dodger lineup and might be playing himself into an All-Star Game appearance.

When the Dodgers traded Yasiel Puig and signed A.J. Pollock over the winter, it signaled a couple of things for the Dodgers:

  1. Cody Bellinger was going to be the starting right fielder
  2. Max Muncy was going to play. A lot.

To get Muncy’s bat into the lineup, he had to be competent at positions other than first base. That meant putting in the time in the offseason to improve at second base and to give third base another shot. With Justin Turner’s slow start, there was opportunity for Muncy to play third base. When Enrique Hernandez’s hot start faded quickly and Chris Taylor’s season never really took off, there was opportunity for Muncy to play second base. He has done so quite well this season.

His prowess at the plate this season has been fun and encouraging for his future, Muncy’s defense has taken a big step forward, and not just at first base. He wasn’t great defensively last season. We know about his early season escapades at third base that saw him log just two innings at the hot corner after Aug. 2. He was very much a project at second base last season and only played there so the Dodgers could get his bat in the lineup. He even compiled a -4 defensive runs saved at first base. This season has been a completely different story, though. He’s a plus-defender at all three of the positions. He has a 2 DRS at first base, 2 DRS at second base and a whopping 5 DRS at third base. He has the same number of DRS in 156 innings that Alex Bregman and Manny Machado have all season (in double and triple the innings).

MLB: New York Mets at Los Angeles Dodgers
Muncy’s defense has taken a big step forward, and not just at first base.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Muncy might have made himself even more valuable to the Dodgers than he already was. Some thought the Dodgers should have tried to trade him in the offseason. I wouldn’t have been opposed to it, but it also didn’t feel like he had that much trade value. Now, teams would be lining up to take him off the Dodgers’ hands. Unfortunately for those teams, Muncy is going nowhere.

Not only is Muncy angling for a spot on the National League All-Star team, if he keeps up this level of production and is defensively above-average at multiple positions, he’s going to garner some MVP votes before the end of the season.

Not bad for a guy who signed to a minor-league contract a month into the 2017 season.