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2021 Dodgers in review: Max Muncy

An elbow injury knocked LA’s All-Star 1B out for the playoffs

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Max Muncy’s value to the Dodgers has been obvious throughout his four seasons, but it was never more on display than during the 2021 playoffs.

A collision at first base dislocated Muncy’s left elbow on the final day of the regular season, knocking him out of the postseason. The timing couldn’t have been worse, and the Dodgers greatly struggled to replace his production.

First base starts for the Dodgers in the playoffs were split between Cody Bellinger (six starts), Matt Beaty (three), and Albert Pujols (three). A large chunk of Bellinger’s value is his excellent defense in center field, but he only started there four times during the postseason. In the games with Bellinger filling in at first base, the starts in center went to Gavin Lux (five starts) and Chris Taylor (once). In addition to losing Bellinger’s defense in center, the extra time given to Beaty, Pujols, Lux, and Taylor combined for one extra-base hit (a double) and no RBI in 38 plate appearances while hitting like late-stage Pete Rose (.281/.395/.313). That also robbed the bench of depth, leading to Steven Souza Jr. (1-for-8, walk) and Andy Burns (0-for-2) getting key plate appearances.

What the Dodgers were missing was what can now be called a typical Max Muncy season — power, patience, infield versatility — with improvements in a few key areas in 2021.

Muncy set a career high with 36 home runs, right in line with his 35-homer seasons in 2018 and 2019. Since he first played for the Dodgers on April 17, 2018, Muncy’s 118 home runs rank fourth in the majors, behind only Eugenio Suarez (127), Nelson Cruz (123), and Nolan Arenado (120). Muncy led the Dodgers in home runs, runs batted in (94), runs scored (95), total bases (262), and walks (83).

The Giants proved to be Muncy’s favorite opponent, hitting .284/.385/.672 with eight home runs, the most by a Dodger against San Francisco since Ron Cey in 1978. The only Dodgers with more home runs in a season against the Giants are Dolph Camilli (11 homers in 22 games, in 1941) and Roy Campanella (10 homers in 22 games in 1953), both of whom were named NL Most Valuable Player.

He cut his strikeout rate from 25.8 percent in 2018-20 combined to just 20.3 percent in 2021. Muncy made his second All-Star teamstarting at designated hitter in the midsummer classic — and was a top-four finisher among National League first baseman in the Silver Slugger Award.

Like most of the Dodgers regulars, Muncy had his struggles as well. Through the end of July, Muncy appeared headed for his best season. He slumped over the final two months, though it’s worth noting his down months were still above average offensively, though perhaps not at first base.

Max Muncy 2021 splits

Time period BA/OBP/SLG HR wRC+ BB rate K rate
Time period BA/OBP/SLG HR wRC+ BB rate K rate
through July 31 .279/.413/.557 22 160 17.1% 17.6%
August-September .203/.290/.479 14 105 8.8% 24.9%
Source: FanGraphs

The home runs were still there, but the plate discipline waned.

“I think he has an elite ability to look over a baseball and stay in the strike zone. The last 30 days, he’s chased,” manager Dave Roberts said in late September. “He’s running into some homers, which has been great, but I think he’s more than a one-dimensional home run hitter. He’s an on-base guy, he uses all fields.”

Muncy’s bat was not his only strength in 2021. He was a top-three finisher at first base for the Gold Glove Award. Muncy led all major league first basemen in the SABR Defensive Index — an amalgam of five statistics that account for a quarter of the Gold Glove Award, with the other 75 percent coming from managers and coaches voting — despite starting just 101 games and playing 901 innings at first base, compared to 153 starts and 1,313 innings at the position for Gold Glove winner Paul Goldschmidt.

In addition to first base, Muncy started 31 times at second base, where he was above average by Defensive Runs Saved and Total Zone Rating, plus three starts at third base. He finished 10th in NL MVP voting.

It was a success both offensively and defensively for Muncy in 2021, but one that ended well before both he and the Dodgers would have liked.

2021 particulars

Age: 30

Stats: .249/.368/.527, 36 HR, 94 RBI, 95 R, 140 wRC+, 4.9 bWAR, 4.9 fWAR

Salary: $7.5 million

Game of the year

Muncy took the Dodgers into the All-Star break on a high note on July 11 at Dodger Stadium. Trailing the Diamondbacks 4-1, Muncy singled and scored in an eighth-inning rally that tied the game, then hit a three-run home run in the ninth, the second of three walk-off wins for Los Angeles in 2021.

Roster status

Muncy will make $11.5 million in 2022, the final season of his three-year, $26 million contract. The Dodgers hold a $13.5 million club option on Muncy for 2023, with a buyout of $1.5 million.