Dodgers third baseman Max Muncy is an example of old vs new school thinking. Depending on how you view a player’s statistics, he is either an above-average hitter this season, or one of the worst in the sport. Entering Sunday he has an unsightly .197 batting average and a 26.8-percent (22nd percentile) strikeout rate. But on the flip side, he has 30 home runs again, and is in the 90th percentile or better in xwOBA, xSLG, barrel rate and walk percentage. In the 1990’s, Muncy would likely be one of the worst hitters in baseball, if a team would even employ him with that batting average. today, he is one of the better hitters in the league.
The good of the season
As highlighted above, Muncy has been of the best hitters in baseball in multiple key statistics. Among third baseman this year he is tied for first in home runs, is second in walks and fifth in RBI. His walk percentage is in the 97th percentile in baseball and he barrels the ball up at a rate of 16.5 percent which is good enough for the 96th percentile.
Additionally, Muncy consistently impacts the ball well with an average exit velocity of 91.2 MPH and hard hit rate of 47.6 percent which fall into the 79th and 82nd percentiles respectively. The two-time All-Star also has a flyball rate of 51.2 percent which is nearly 14 ticks higher than league average.
The bad of the season
The ugliest part of Muncy as a player comes in the field. Over the past two seasons he has a run value of -2 as a fielder and a total outs above average of -2. His average arm strength of 82.9 MPH from third base is also well below average as it is in the 35th percentile.
At the dish, the two worst statistics for Muncy are his batting average and strikeout rate, but in 2023 those are two of the least important statistics when it comes to evaluating a batter. His whiff rate does also leave some to desire as it currently sits in the 22nd percentile.
Additionally, Muncy has a WAR of 2.4 on the season, which is not a bad number per se. But that only ranks 14th among primary third basemen in 2023.
The most concerning statistic for me though in regards to Muncy is the 23.5-percent whiff rate against four seam fastballs this year. Traditionally, a spike in that number is an indicator that a player’s bat is starting to slow down and regression is coming which is something we saw with José Abreu over the past few seasons. His four-seam whiff rate went from 18.2 percent in 2020 to 24.9 percent last year and he is in the midst of his worst season as a pro this year. Muncy’s has gone from 14.4 percent in 2021 to 23.5 percent this season, a potential indicator of things to come.
How will this age over time?
So much of his game is predicated on picking up walks as he has a walk percentage of 14 percent or higher in every season since 2016. But, with an elevated strikeout rate it is fair to assume that over time those walks are going to turn into more and more strikeouts as his bat slows down and his eye gets worse.
Let’s say in 2024, his walk rate declines three points and those turn into strikeouts due to the factors listed above. Over the course of a full season that would turn about 18 walks into strikeouts. He is already about a .197 hitter and has been below .200 in three of the last four seasons, imagine what that number would be with a 30-percent strikeout rate? Additionally his well above average expected metrics would likely suddenly turn into rather pedestrian numbers.
With all of that in mind, I think Muncy is a player who is going to hit a quick and sudden wall and that is something that might just happen in 2024. Which complicates the Dodgers’ pending decision on his club option for next season, which will be worth $12 million after his second plate appearance Sunday, and could potentially reach $14 million if he reaches 550 plate appearances this year.