Max Muncy certainly will look back at his 2022 season with a mixed bag of feelings. On one hand, the Dodgers infielder put up a final stat line well short of his talent level and recent track record. But on the flip side, he ended the year with two excellent months following a small adjustment to his swing in late July.
In his Dodgers’ career, the organization hasn’t been shy about exploring Muncy’s flexibility. After a 2021 campaign that earned a top-10 finish in the MVP as a first baseman, Muncy had to switch positions once again as the Dodgers took advantage of a market opportunity and signed Freddie Freeman.
It’s not like third base was a new position for Muncy — he had previous experience playing in the hot corner — and the Freeman signing certainly made a lot of sense. But between adapting back to third, and rehabbing from the elbow injury that kept him out of the 2021 playoffs, Muncy certainly had a lot on his plate in the beginning of 2022.
In three of the first four months of 2022, Muncy put up an OPS below .600, and it was baffling to a large portion of the fan base why the team stuck with him as an everyday player when he was doing virtually no damage with the bat in his hands.
The explanation behind the team’s insistence in this particular struggling player was two-fold. First and foremost, through the deepest valleys of Muncy’s season, he managed to stay away from designations such as liability. In a putrid first half, the Dodgers’ primary third baseman still managed to post a slightly above-league-average on-base percentage (.320 to .317).
The nature of Muncy’s game allowed the Dodgers to continue to play him as he tried to figure things out, without him completely detrimental to the team’s chances on a daily basis. Even through his biggest slumps and general struggles, Muncy’s walk rate simply elevates his floor to a level significantly higher than your run-of-the-mill player.
Michael Baumman at FanGraphs in September illustrated how that particular skill set helped Muncy remain playable, at the very least, through all of his woes.
Muncy’s injury at the end of last year was significant enough to make us wonder how much of his 2022 struggles could be pinned on it, especially since the team and the player decided to go the non-surgical route. How healthy is Muncy? Should the team consider shutting him down? Those were all worthwhile questions as the first half came to a close.
Then at the end of July, when this looked like a lost year for the 31-year-old slugger, a small change to his swing changed everything for Muncy. Now, this wasn’t the type of precise adjustment completely backed by hard data. In fact, kind of the farthest thing from it. Sometimes you have to get lucky.
The Dodgers were in Colorado, and in the middle of a cage session just throwing around ideas, it was suggested that maybe Muncy try and emulate former Rockies legend Nolan Arenado, in one way.
Muncy started taking a step back with his plant leg before the swing, and that small tweak paid off big time. The Dodgers' third baseman would go on to slash .261/.352/.554 in August, and although his numbers came back down somewhat in September, Muncy’s second half saved his season.
A 106 wRC+ wasn’t what Muncy had in mind for his 2022 season, but considering the hole he dug in the first half, that final number is rather remarkable and rewarding for an organization that maintained faith in one of its top players.
Certainly, Muncy will look to carry over that second-half improvement and return to his former self in 2023.
Stats: .196/.329/.384, 21 HR, 22 doubles, 69 RBI, 90 BB, 106 wRC+, 2.7 bWAR, 2.4 fWAR
Salary: $11.5 million
Game of the year
The Giants' killer strikes again. Muncy had two home runs and a double on September 6, going 3-for-4 with three RBI in a 6-3 Dodgers’ win over their bitter rivals.
Two homer game? Giant night for Max. pic.twitter.com/C4VGxx2WN3— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 7, 2022
Muncy signed an extension in August that turned his 2023 team option 2023 into a guaranteed $13.5 million, which included a $10-million option plus incentives for 2024.