While there have been many fantastic storylines that have come in the first-half of 2018, none has captured the hearts of Dodgers fans more than the emergence of utility man extraordinaire Max Muncy. By no means am I saying his overall statistics are monumental—his home run output is very close, though—but considering where he was on the organizational ladder last winter, his ascension to becoming the Dodger’s top slugger has been colossal. It’s almost reminiscent of the under-the-radar advent of Chris Taylor in 2017, but in a much smaller span of time.
Last Christmas Eve, when nobody even heard of him, I put together a quick story about Muncy, mentioning how he could be a sleeper for the big league 25-man roster in 2018. And even though second base is not his natural position, my focus was seeing Muncy sliding onto the squad to make-up for an under-productive Logan Forsythe on offense:
“He went on to have an outstanding year for OKC, slashing .309/.414/.491 with 12 long balls, 20 doubles and 44 RBI in 109 contests. Perhaps more importantly, he proved his defensive versatility, having played ample time at first base, second base and third base, along with a handful of games at both corner outfield spots. But as far as major league experience goes, he’s spent most of his time at second base. For Oakland in 2016, he started 19 games at the keystone and logged 159 innings defensively without recording an error… While other alternatives to compliment Forsythe do exist, there may be a door leading to the 25-man roster for Muncy to sneak through, as long as the Dodgers don’t make any major additions between now and mid-February.”
Not only did Muncy sneak through that door, skipper Dave Roberts now finds it difficult to keep the 27-year-old Texas native out of the daily lineup—even for a single day of rest.
The craziest stat of all is that Muncy hammered just five long balls in his first 96 big league ABs. However, in the first half of 2018, he reached 20 home runs in only his 183rd AB of the season, making him the fastest to get there in Dodgers history, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Muncy broke the record set by Cody Bellinger in 189 ABs last season.
“He’s putting up All-Star numbers,” Roberts recently said of his lefty-hitting slugger. “That’s just the way it is. That’s the truth. He’s taking advantage of an opportunity, and it’s good to see.”
Muncy’s 1.060 OPS would be leading the National League by a wide margin, but he doesn’t yet have enough ABs to qualify for the official lead among regular players. Still, his 20 blasts are good enough for third place on the Senior Circuit, trailing only Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Nolan Arenado of the Rockies.
Even teammate Clayton Kershaw is on board with the “Mad Max” brigade, telling reporters earlier in the week that he believes Muncy is currently among the hottest in the game.
“We knew Max was a good hitter, but I don’t think anybody in the world would expect this,” Kersh explained. “He’s the best hitter in baseball right now. I don’t think anybody could argue with that.”
In a special-guest column last week, an old friend of our site, Todd Boldizsar, touched upon a few of the technical aspects that have been attributed to Muncy’s latest string of success:
“Muncy, under hitting coach Darren Bush, featured a much more level swing, and a small shuffle of his front foot. This led to solid contact and average exit velocity on balls in play, but Muncy’s balance was off on breaking balls and his torque was minimal on fastballs. In 2017, Muncy spent the entire season with Triple-A Oklahoma City hitting coach Shawn Wooten, and the real man behind the scenes, hitting consultant Craig Wallenbrock. These two men gave Muncy a better timing mechanism with a small leg kick, and provided Muncy with advice on adding a slight upturn to his swing. The result was increased bat speed due to body mechanics, and Muncy’s swing now generates lift. Muncy’s new swing mimics the trend in Major League Baseball, where hitters are relying less on bunt hits and stolen bases, and more on instant power. This make-or-break approach has added excitement back into the game. Muncy has gone from nullified WAR to 2.2 already in 2018, and is on pace for nearly 7 WAR by the end of the regular season.”
With the NL All-Star rosters not long from being finalized, there’s a good chance that Muncy may be included in some shape or form, especially with Roberts being the NL skipper. Undeniably, he’s certainly deserving, yet, there’s no question he puts the success of his team ahead of any personal accolades.
And while there’s no telling what surprises lie ahead in the second-half of the year, if Muncy’s output comes anywhere close to that of the first-half, fans of the Dodgers are likely to look back and remember Muncy’s 2018 campaign for a long, long time.