Recently, I wrote an article about the very surprising Max Muncy. That was published on June 4, which is only about a week and a half ago. The way this tends to work, we write articles about players when we can’t ignore their hot streaks anymore, and then, invariably, regression sets in. Not so, in this case. At least, not yet. Since June 4, Muncy has batted 31 times. He has eight walks and ten hits, four of which have left the yard. Muncy has actually gone deep four games in a row.
Muncy didn’t even figure into our preseason Dodgers depth chart. I doubt the Dodgers were thinking too much about him, either. Muncy was projected by both Steamer and ZiPS as a below-replacement player. Well, he’s come to the plate 157 times, and out of everyone with 150 plate appearances, Muncy ranks third in baseball in wRC+, behind only Mookie Betts and Mike Trout. The picture, according to expected wOBA, is only a little bit different — within the same player pool, Muncy ranks fifth, between Freddie Freeman and Joey Votto. The numbers are spectacular, and the size of the sample is only growing.
It’s easy to just look at the numbers and let your eyes pop out of your head. Depending on who you root for, it’s probably easy to curse the Dodgers’ inexplicable magic. As innumerable people have already said, Muncy is just looking like 2018’s 2017 Chris Taylor. Here’s where the Dodgers are right now: Muncy has forced his way into playing time, and he just started his first game at second base. Every single indicator, to this point, has been positive. One could opt to just let things play out. Let the league determine how good Muncy really is. That’s going to happen, anyway. In this post, I want to take a shot at identifying Muncy’s offensive peer group.
Just what has Max Muncy become, in the box? I’m going to use an experimental method I’ve dabbled with before. I use four core statistics: chase rate, contact rate, average exit velocity, and average launch angle. The latter two numbers come from Baseball Savant. I have these numbers for every batter in baseball with at least 100 plate appearances. I find, in each category, the number of standard deviations separating a given hitter from Muncy. I take the absolute value of that number, and then, at last, I add up the four absolute values, yielding something I call the Comp Score. The lower the number, the closer the comp. So with no further delay, here’s Muncy, and his ten closest comps for 2018:
When I first wrote about Muncy, I mentioned Carpenter as a potential comp. He’s here, in this table. Down in the comments of that post, Brad Johnson mentioned Nimmo as a potential comp. He’s also here, in this table. The closest comp, so far, is McCutchen — the only player with a Comp Score under 1. Note that this analysis ignores handedness, and also ignores position. It doesn’t at all consider age or athleticism.
There are reasons this is experimental. This isn’t in any way conclusive, and you probably shouldn’t look at this table and figure that, yes, indeed, Max Muncy compares well to Mike Trout. Trout, obviously, is the vastly superior player. And yet — and yet — there are certain offensive similarities. That’s the whole point of this. These are numbers that are ordinarily supposed to remain fairly stable, and they tend to find their levels pretty quick. Muncy doesn’t hit the ball as hard as Trout does, but he does make consistent good contact, and there’s no faking so disciplined an eye. Even back when Muncy was bad in the majors, he posted very low chase rates. He’s always had a good idea of the zone, and now he’s just stinging the ball with authority.
Muncy has pulled most of his homers, but he’s already hit three to the opposite field. He’s hit ten homers against righties, but he’s also already hit three homers against lefties, in just 27 chances. Behind this performance surge, we see that Muncy made adjustments to become more productive in Triple-A in 2017. One important takeaway from the table above: Every single comp has been an above-average hitter. In fact, if I extended to the top 20 comps, those would also all be above-average hitters. The first below-average hitter to show up is Chris Iannetta, who has simply under-performed his expected wOBA. You have to squint pretty tight to figure out a way to look at Max Muncy and conclude he’s not a good hitter now.
Is he top-five-hitter-in-baseball good? Almost certainly not. The elites are the elites, with their elite skillsets, and Muncy would need to prove an awful lot more in order to belong. There’s time now for pitchers to adjust to his new identity, because, to this point, many of them probably wouldn’t have given Muncy a second thought. With better performance comes increased scrutiny, and Muncy is likely to be pitched a little tougher. Recall Rhys Hoskins‘ 158 wRC+ last year as a rookie — this year, he’s at 116. His expected wOBA has dropped 27 points. Pitchers are very good at identifying weaknesses.
But Muncy has given himself so much room to get worse while staying valuable. He’s capable of playing several different positions, and he now blends his disciplined eye with a dramatically improved ability to hit the ball hard. I can’t imagine Muncy is going to finish the year with a wRC+ around 175. If his true talent, though, is around 120 or 130 or 140 — well, who’s to say it isn’t? All the underlying numbers support his transformation.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.