Prior to his elbow injury in 2021, Max Muncy was considered to be one of the dark horses for National League MVP. During 2022 though, the baseball card numbers indicate he struggled badly. He hit a meager .196 with a .329 OBP and a .384 slugging percentage. His 21 homers were a solid number but a far cry from the 36 he posted in 2021. When looking below the hood though, there were multiple metrics that indicated Muncy was actually an above average hitter for the Dodgers last season.
Before we get into the numbers, the most important thing to discuss with Muncy’s 2022 season is his health. The lefty was still battling with the effects of an elbow injury he suffered in the 2021 postseason. Muncy described his trying year on MLB Network in February.
“The elbow feels like it’s finally moving how it’s supposed to move and you know it’s something that we couldn’t get done all last year and it was very frustrating. We had to make some swing changes just to get my body to move the way it needed to move,” Muncy told Alanna Rizzo on ‘High Heat.’ “It feels healthy right now, it feels strong. It feels right back to where it needs to be. My swings gotten back to being more simplified.”
Numbers aside, an injured elbow and changed adjustment at the dish can largely point to why he slipped in 2022. Despite that though, there are still some analytics we need to look at to understand his performance last year and what his 2023 might look like.
We will start this by getting the one really bad number out of the way first. His xBA of .208 fell into the fifth lowest percentile amongst qualified hitters. There’s no defending a number that low, especially after it was .271 in 2021.
Now to the good. His average exit velocity did drop down to 90.3 MPH, but it still sat in the 75th percentile. In addition to that his barrel percentage of 13.4 percent was in the 91st percentile, despite being 2.7 percent lower than his 2021 number. On top of those two numbers his hard-hit percentage of 45.6 percent was in the 78th percentile. Those three analytics are key when evaluating his 2022 season because it tells us he is still impacting the ball well and the higher the quality of contact the better the expected metrics which is king.
When looking at the majority of Muncy’s expected numbers they are above average because of what was discussed above. His xSLG of .417, .033 points higher than his base slugging, fell into the 64th percentile. His xwOBA of .339, a .021 uptick from his actual wOBA ranked in the 75th percentile.
So, the instant question becomes if he is impacting the ball well and has strong expected numbers across the board, batting average aside why did his numbers drop in 2022? The easy answer to that is his launch angle skyrocketed to a number that teams do not want it at. It sat at 20.9 degrees last year, 8.8 degrees higher than league average. His under percentage shot up from 24.6 percent in 2021 to 33.4 percent in 2022 and his pop-up percentage increased from 5.6 percent to 7.9 percent. There are a few different takeaways that you can come away with from those numbers.
For me personally it tells me that Muncy was trying too hard to hit home runs and it resulted in him getting under the ball consistently. We can see examples of players getting home run happy every single season. New York Mets second baseman Jeff Mcneil fell under that spell in 2021 after hitting .321 in 2020. Obviously, there is more to it, but his pop-up percentage rose 3 percent to 7.9 and his under percentage increased to 26.4 percent. His under percentage increased again in 2022 but his pop-up percentage dropped 2 percent which in turn helped his expected metrics. If Muncy is able to work on reducing pop ups and getting under the ball less that will significantly reduce his problems in 2023.
Now when looking at his non quality of contact numbers there is a lot that shows that Muncy was actually not far off of his 2018-19 form where he posted back-to-back seasons of .380 or better xwOBA’s.
Max Muncy plate discipline
Muncy’s numbers improved in every single one of these areas and if you want to go even deeper beneath the hood the numbers look even better. His whiff rate against four seamers was the second-lowest of his career and against changeups it was the best in his career at 30%.
When looking at everything above it is a far cry from his 2021 season where he finished 10th in NL MVP voting. Honestly though, that season looks more like an anomaly than anything because of how far off most of his numbers were from previous seasons. To say Muncy is still the hitter that he was in 2018 and 2019 is certainly not farfetched as the numbers were largely the same or even better in 2022.
Assuming Muncy is able to bring his launch angle down this season, it is not out of the question that he will once again receive MVP votes and finish inside the top 15 of voting.