Max Muncy runs a lot in slow start until 2022

Every season, some strange, skewed battle lines appear at the beginning of the season. This season is no exception, but even in that context, Max Muncy’s is a doozy.

Just look at what the Dodgers infielder cut through his first 33 games of 2022: .163/.341/.298. That’s not good, of course, although it’s not nearly as bad as you’d expect either.

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), an offensive metric similar to OPS+ that adapts to the offensive environment and park effects, has Muncy at a 97 — just three points below the MLB average. That, of course, is still well below what Muncy produced in his three full seasons since joining the Dodgers: 162 (2018), 133 (’20) and 140 (’21).

But the key point here isn’t the quality of Muncy’s slash. It’s the quirk.

Muncy base hits through 33 games: 17
Muncy goes through 33 matches: 27

Throw in one hit-by-throw, and Muncy had reached base safely on a free pass twice as many times as he had on a batted ball, before picking up three soft basehits in his last two games, including one on a bunt on Monday night. Even in an era of low batting averages and high running and hitting percentages, this is noticeable.

Highest hit-to-walk ratio in modern AL/NL history
In a qualifying season (since 1900)

Peak Bonds, as usual, belong in a completely separate category. (His two seasons listed above are in first and second place all-time for both total walks and intentional walks). Put him aside, and Joey Gallo’s 1.12 ratio last year (111 walks, 99 hits) was the highest in an unabridged qualifying season since Wynn’s 1976.

Of course, it is important to take into account the “qualifying season” caveat. White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal had 1.3 times more walks (87) than hits (67) a year ago, but that was in only 375 at bats, thanks in part to nearly two months on the injured list.

The above leaderboard is not an apples-to-apples comparison either. The Dodgers have played about a fifth of their schedule and Muncy’s ratio is almost certainly not going to be such an outlier until September. But even if we focus on the start of a season, this is rare territory.

27+ walks AND 17 or fewer hits
Through a player’s first 33 games in a season (since 1901)
2022 – Max Muncy (LAD): 27 BB, 17 H
2021 – Yasmani Grandal (CHW): 38 BB, 12 H
2000 – John Jaha (OAK): 33 BB, 17 H
1987 – John Cangelosi (PIT): 28 BB, 10 H
1973 – Denis Menke (CIN): 27 BB, 17 H
1961 – Eddie Yost (LAA): 30 BB, 16 H
1937 – Woody English (BRO): 28 BB, 16 H
1935 – Sammy Holbrook (WSH): 27 BB, 16 H

Jaha’s 33rd game was his last of the 2000 season. Of the other six, only Menke collected more walks than hits in the rest of that season, showing that such extreme results usually diminish toward the mean as the sample size increases.

Still, given Muncy’s importance to a stacked Dodgers lineup, it’s worth exploring how he got to this point and what it means to move forward. (All stats below are up to and including Sunday’s games).

The walks are nothing new

This part of the equation is actually quite common. Muncy was a patient batter before ever joining the Dodgers, and he certainly has been since his breakthrough 2018 Los Angeles campaign.

In the past four seasons, only seven qualified batters have outperformed Muncy’s running speed of 15.2%, serving him well. He was in the top 20 in MLB in OBP (.371) and wRC+ (138) during that stretch.

Muncy remains one of the most patient hitters in the game, ranking in the 97th percentile in pursuit percentage, his fifth consecutive season in the 94th percentile or above. And he’s especially stingy in terms of chasing offers in what Statcast considers the “chase” and “waste” areas — beyond one baseball width outside the zone’s edge. Of the more than 230 batters who have seen at least 100 such pitches, only teammate Will Smith swung at a slower pace than Muncy (6.2%).

What is perhaps disturbing is that Muncy – never particularly aggressive in the zone either – has also become increasingly passive there. His 55.4% batting rate against pitches in the “heart” of the zone (at least one baseball width within the rim) is also the MLB’s second lowest. That can lead to deeper counts and ultimately more walks, but it also ignores the kind of throws that are likely to become singles. Only Grandal has taken more called strikes on those offers from the heart of the zone while leading the tally than Muncy.

Where have all the hits gone?

It would be more reassuring for the Dodgers if this was just a case of bad luck. But while Muncy’s expected batting average based on contact quality is 52 points higher than his actual average, that hardly stands out from the pack.

The bad guy? Muncy just doesn’t send the ball the way he usually does. Remember, the lefty slugger is coming back from a torn UCL in his left elbow that he sustained in the final game of the 2021 regular season. Whether that contributed to Muncy being a bit off is hard to say, but these comparisons fall sure on :

Those stats refer to how often Muncy hits the ball from 95 mph or harder and how many times he makes contact in the optimal range of launch angle to produce good results. Muncy, in particular, gets a lot of balls and lifts them above the sweet spot range (33 degrees launch angle or higher). He is 2-for-26 (.077) on that variety of contact, which is about the league average pass rate.

If Muncy can maintain the swing he has developed for much of 2021, better results should follow. In the meantime, his trademark patience will at least keep him on base – and have him share space with Bonds atop a strange leaderboard.

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