Taking a look at the slow starts of Max Muncy, Justin Turner, and … Trea Turner?

Early season baseball analysis is such a crapshoot at its core. One week a guy can look like he’s rediscovering his MVP form, the next he can’t even buy a single. It’s just hard to discern what’s meaningful and what’s noise at this stage in the season.

Anyway, that’s basically me saying that everything in this post about the early struggles of Max Muncy, Justin Turner, and Trea Turner comes with a gigantic grain of salt as things can still change rapidly.

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Max Muncy: .141/.323/.295/.618 – 92 wRC+

A usually elite bat and one of the best first basemen in baseball, Muncy is off to a terrible start. This isn’t necessarily surprising, as he did suffer a serious injury at the end of last year and wasn’t 100% even at the start of delayed Spring Training this year, but nevertheless his output has been part of why the lineup has been inconsistent.

Muncy isn’t unaware that he’s underachieving, as he recently celebrated even a single falling in.

But that reaction can also be interpreted more as exasperation with his luck to that point, as his slash line doesn’t do him justice . Muncy’s actually making a ton of quality contact, with his Barrel% (15.3) higher than his career as a Dodger and an 87-point difference between his actual wOBA (.293) and expected wOBA (.380) based on quality of contact. Of his nine barrels, he has just one more hit on those than outs.

Additionally, he currently has a career-high in walk rate (20.2%) and a career-low in strikeout rate (19.2%). While his expected wOBA hovers around the low-end of things for his career outside of 2020, considering all the other factors at play (including the ball), the concerns about him seem largely overblown and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t get back to his usual self sooner than later.

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Justin Turner: .180/.235/.258/.493 – 47 wRC+

Even as JT’s production has declined from elite a handful of years ago to just good last year, in an important spot where the Dodgers absolutely must have a quality at-bat, I don’t think there’s ever been a player I wanted up there more over the years. That kind of quality consistency has helped stabilize the lineup during his tenure, much like he’s done for the clubhouse over the years, and while his .832 OPS and 127 wRC+ last year were signs of aging, he was still obviously productive.

This year seems clearly different. Not only is he one of the worst hitters in baseball right now (8th, to be exact), but unlike with Muncy there’s no real signs of things getting significantly better. He’s posting career worsts in walk rate (7.1%) and strikeout rate (20.4%), his chase rate is over 35% when he’s never been over 30% in his career, his swinging strike rate is over 10% when he’s never been close to 9% before, and both his Barrel% and HardHit% are also running career lows. Unsurprisingly, the batted ball data doesn’t look pretty with a .225 wOBA and .288 expected wOBA, which means he’s been a bit unlucky but would still be in Nick Solak-esque production regardless.

Additionally, the notion that he’s always bad in April is a misnomer as well. His power has consistently been bad in April, but he hasn’t. Outside of his first season with the team in a part-time role before he really became JT, he was actually pretty solid with a .750 career OPS in the month.

Also, as has been pointed out with regards to Joey Votto‘s struggles at ages 37+, JT is in the same boat.

Obviously I hope he turns it around, and if anybody deserves a bit of extra rope to figure things out, it’s JT. However, I would not be especially surprised if there’s a significant dip in production for him this year, as time is truly undefeated.

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Trea Turner: .260/.311/.365/.676 – 98 wRC+

Surprised to see him here? You shouldn’t be. Lost in all the stuff about hitting and on-base streaks is a rather slow start hidden by his ability to leg out hits. Years ago this wouldn’t have been a surprise, back when he was just a solid-average bat at a premium position that was a borderline All-Star. However, in 2020 and 2021 he truly broke out as a hitter, posting wRC+ of 158 and 142, respectively, finishing last year as a legitimate NL MVP candidate.

Now he’s hovering around league average again because he’s striking out more, struggling to lift the ball (51.4 GB%), and doing even worse attempting to do damage in the air, with a .301 wOBA backed by an expected wOBA of .308.

But that’s not really even the biggest concern at the moment, as after playing second base last year he seems to have forgotten how to play shortstop. He’s not only been one of the worst shortstops, but has been one of the worst defenders, period.

The upside? Well, there’s not really any glaring red flag to pinpoint, he’s just not been as good as advertised. Of course, there’s nothing all that positive either, but a 29-year-old coming off back-to-back career years seems a solid bet to simply play more like that elite guy than see a massive drop-off due to a mediocre first month.

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As you may notice, all three are position players, which makes sense as it’s hard to find underachievers on a pitching staff with a collective 2.11 ERA and 2.86 FIP, whose worse two pitchers right now are arguably ace Walker Buehler and closer Craig Kimbrel.

Whether it’s the dead ball or not, the vaunted lineup is where most of the team’s losses can be pinned, and while there’s some due regression going both ways, it really is scary to think a team playing at a 110+ win pace could be doing a lot better.

About Chad Moriyama

"A highly rational Internet troll." - Los Angeles Times