Max Muncy’s struggles at the plate have been well documented over the course of the 2022 season. To date, he has slashed just .185/.323/.377/.700 with 15 home runs. That’s a far cry from what fans had become accustomed to, as in his four seasons with the Dodgers prior to 2022, he slashed .246/.371/.520/.890, with his lowest home run total being 35 and carrying an impressive walk rate of 15.2%. Simply put, he had been one of the most consistent and productive hitters in baseball.
Despite the elongated slump, manager Dave Roberts has stayed patient with his struggling infielder, and it appears as though this patience is beginning to pay off. Over the last 14 games, Muncy has caught lightning in a bottle, hitting six home runs, while slashing an impressive .320/.404/.780/1.184. He has been one of the Dodgers hottest hitters in a lineup that already boasts the second-highest run total in baseball. It’s a small sample size, but based on history and mechanical adjustments, it could mean that Muncy has finally turned a corner. And at the perfect time too.
It is not very often that a perennial All-Star suddenly falls into a slump that he never returns from. We see it from young players who find immediate success and then get exposed as pitchers start to make adjustments. However, if a player has found consistent success over the course of several years, there is usually a more gradual decline in their production when they begin to struggle. Muncy fits the latter description, which makes this season’s enormous struggles seem very out of the ordinary. But when you dive deeper into these struggles, there are clear explanations for why this was happening.
Muncy is coming off a major UCL injury that was supposed to require him to undergo Tommy John surgery. He elected to forgo that surgery and attempt to play through it. The injury was to his non-throwing arm, so it would not hinder his ability to play the field. It makes sense on paper, but it has had a major impact on his ability to swing the bat.
Looking at the last column, we can see that Muncy’s GB/FB ratio has reached an all-time low, meaning that he is hitting more fly balls. On paper, this feels like a good thing (more fly balls = more home runs), but when you consider that Muncy has seen his barrel rate decrease by over 3.5% and his average exit velocity decrease by almost 3%, it has spelled problems for the big lefty.
Fly balls that do not leave the park often get caught by major league fielders. With the decrease in exit velocity and hard-hit rate, this has led to more balls staying in the yard, which means more outs being made. Likely as a direct result, Muncy’s BABIP has dropped by 50 points (coincidentally, almost the exact number his overall batting average has dropped).
One reason as to why this was happening could be because Max was not able to get his top arm through the zone (his struggles with high fastballs have been a problem all season). His top arm is the arm that he injured last season, so it would stand to reason that it is not as strong as it had been before the injury.
A hitter’s top arm controls the plane of the bat and helps them stay on top of the ball. If their top arm is weak, it leads to them getting under the ball and hitting weak fly balls. This is exactly what we have seen from Muncy all season. However, it seems as though Muncy has found a way to work around the weakness in his left arm.
Over the last few weeks, Muncy has begun to take a step back as the pitch is coming in. This allows him to get into his back leg more and use all of his 215 lb frame. It’s a drill that many players do in the batting cage, but do not often take into the game. You can see this drop step backwards with his back foot in his home run off of Eric Lauer on August 17th:
It is very similar to the famous Nolan Arenado shuffle that he has patented over the years.
Muncy has been able to take this drill into the game because of how low he keeps his center of gravity. Although there is a lot of movement going on as the pitch is being delivered, his head stays still, and this allows him to still see the ball well.
Seeing the ball has never been a problem for Muncy, and it is perhaps the one thing that has kept him in the lineup all year. His walk rate is up to 16.7% this season, higher than his career average of 15%. Even with his struggles with balls in play, Muncy has been able to contribute more than one would think because of the amount of walks he draws, and that afforded patience in him as he found something that worked.
There’s not much to indicate this is a fluke run or luck-induced, so it does indeed appear that Max Muncy has returned to his old form. Whether the step back is a short-term fix until his elbow heals properly or something we will see from him throughout the duration of his career remains to be seen. Regardless, one thing is certain: he’s rounding into form at the perfect time for the final stretch and, hopefully, a deep postseason run. If the success continues, the Dodgers will have managed to find a way of essentially adding an All-Star to their lineup even after the trade deadline.