Max Muncy had another Max Muncy season, one that included steady improvement in the second half. He also reached a few numbers that put him in select company in Dodgers franchise history.
Though he struck out five times in five at-bats on opening day – joining White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice in 1996 as the only players ever to have such a start to their year – and had just four hits in his first 33 at-bats, Muncy did have an incredible April, hitting 11 home runs in the season’s first month.
The next two months were especially rough for Muncy, which included missing over two weeks with a hamstring strain. He had hitless streaks of 15 and 13 at-bats in May, and an 0-for-23 stretch in June. Muncy’s batting average dipped below .200 on June 8, and stayed there for more than 11 weeks.
It’s important to note that even with a low batting average, Muncy does plenty of other things that make him a valuable offensive player, namely hitting home runs and walking. He hit under .200 in both 2020 and 2022, but was around league average offensively in total in both years. He had a 98 wRC+ in 2020, and a 107 wRC+ two years later.
But batting average, specifically an average that starts with a one, is difficult to stomach aesthetically. Not just for fans, old and new school alike, but for Muncy himself, as he would often sigh about his quest to raise his batting average. It took some time in 2023, but he got there eventually.
Even with the low batting average in the first half of the season, Muncy was a productive player offensively. But over the final three months he improved a great deal.
Max Muncy’s two halves of 2023
|Through June 30
|July 1 & after
Specifically, Muncy cut his strikeout rate four and a half ticks, from 28.8 percent to 24.4 percent, while still walking a great deal. Muncy got his seasonal batting average back to .200 on August 27, and kept it there the rest of the season.
Put another way, Muncy in the first three months of the season had as many singles (18) as home runs (18). In the final three months, he had 30 singles to go with his 18 home runs, but also doubled his other extra-base hits.
Muncy’s 11th-inning single in Seattle on September 16 drove in the go-ahead run in the game that clinched the National League West for the Dodgers.
Muncy’s 36 home runs tied his career high, and he set a new one with 105 RBI, one of the first Dodgers quartet to drive in 100 runs in the same season.
Home runs have been the norm for Muncy since resurrecting his career with the Dodgers. In his six seasons with the team, Muncy’s 175 home runs are tied for seventh-most in the majors, one more than Mookie Betts as one example.
Muncy’s four seasons of 35 or more home runs is rare in Dodgers history. The only other player to do it in franchise history was Duke Snider, with five such seasons (all in a row, all with 40-plus home runs annually from 1953-57).
Muncy also walked 85 times in 2023, which ranked seventh in the National League. Muncy has four seasons with the Dodgers of 80 or more walks, matching Snider and Ron Cey. The only other Dodgers with more 80-walk years are Pee Wee Reese (nine seasons), Dolph Camilli (five), and Jim Gilliam (five).
It’s been quite a run for Muncy, who is already 10th in Dodgers history with his 175 home runs. Only seven players reached 200, and it took a return trip for Matt Kemp to get over that hump.
Muncy could get there in 2024, but the ball isn’t in his court at the moment. The Dodgers hold a club option on Muncy worth $14 million, with no buyout should they decline.
Third base defense was an issue this year for Muncy, rated below average by Defensive Runs Saved (-3), Total Zone Rating (-5), and Defensive Runs Prevented (-1.4). Muncy was also rated at minus-8 by Outs Above Average, fourth-worst at the position in the majors. That would be the main worry about Muncy going forward, but his offensive performance was good enough to make it worth bringing him back, even with the same usage.
The Dodgers had a dedicated designated hitter in J.D. Martinez in 2023, such that Muncy started at DH only 10 times. Outside of signing Shohei Ohtani, the Dodgers next year might be better served to rotate players through the DH spot, including getting Muncy off his feet on a regular basis while keeping his bat in the lineup.
Stats: .212/.333/.475, 36 HR, 105 RBI, 85 BB, 118 wRC+, 2.6 rWAR, 2.9 fWAR
Salary: $13.5 million
Game of the year
It should not be a surprise that Muncy’s game of the year came against the Giants. He’s been especially productive against the Dodgers’ biggest rival throughout his career, hitting .268/.374/.607 with 25 home runs in 80 games against them.
On April 10 in San Francisco, Muncy hit a three-run home run against Logan Webb and later added a grand slam against reliever Sean Hjelle, part of a game in which he also singled and walked.
Muncy’s seven RBI set a career high, and two days later Muncy hit two more home runs against the Giants to cap off the series. That was the start of a stretch of 10 home runs in 13 games, tying a franchise record held by Pedro Guerrero.
Two weeks later, Muncy and his wife Kellie welcomed their second child, a son named Wyatt.
The Dodgers hold a $14-million club option for 2024 on Muncy, which needs to be exercised or declined by the fifth day after the World Series ends (between November 5-9, depending on when the series ends). There is no buyout.