To the shock of nobody, the Dodgers are good. They lead all of main league baseball with a 10-2 file. They’ve outscored their opponents by 32 runs. Barring catastrophic accidents or a future of unhealthy luck, they appear poised to finish the season as one of many league’s winningest groups.
You might be questioning the place I’m going with this. It’s to introduce the concept good groups are good by design. In a recreation whose aim is to maximise runs scored and decrease runs allowed, their hitters launch dingers, their pitchers compile strikeouts, and quite a few depth gamers permit them to cope with accidents. However immediately, I wish to deal with a single attribute: plate self-discipline. As of writing, the Dodgers have the bottom in O-Swing% within the league. They’re additionally second in Z-Contact%, behind solely the Astros. Shedding unhealthy pitches, making contact with hittable ones – that looks like a recipe for fulfillment. And at the moment, no Dodger hitter is extra emblematic of this method than Max Muncy.
We haven’t written a lot concerning the first baseman right here at FanGraphs. One purpose is perhaps that he isn’t the flashiest athlete – like Trout, he achieves greatness by way of constant manufacturing on the plate. Theatrics are stored to a minimal, save for when he feuded with Madison Bumgarner. However one other, extra related purpose is perhaps that Muncy had remained true to himself since 2018, his breakout 12 months. Certain, his wRC+ plummeted in 2020, however he sported an uncharacteristically low BABIP in one in every of baseball’s weirdest seasons. Apart from that quirk, nothing a lot had modified. He drew his share of walks; he hit for energy.
That’s, till now. By some means, someway, Muncy has change into an much more excessive model of his affected person, slugging self. His O-Swing price of 12.5% is the bottom amongst all hitters, which can be the bottom of his profession. However wait, that’s primarily based on 12 video games! How are you aware this isn’t some small-sample blip? I puzzled about that too, however taking a look at his rolling O-Swing% tells a distinct story, one which started in 2019:
There are fluctuations, in fact, however contemplate the general development. Beginning in 2019, Muncy has progressively chipped away at his O-Swing%. It reached a minimal in July of 2020, then climbed again up in the direction of the tip of September, however he appears to be again on monitor. It additionally gives sturdy proof that his career-best O-Swing% (thus far) isn’t merely a fluke. Whereas the speed is arguably unsustainable, there’s clearly been a aware effort on Muncy’s half to point out extra self-discipline.
Chasing much less is nice, however pitches within the strike zone matter, too. For those who can’t capitalize in your efforts by doing harm to these, the advantage of ignoring balls is restricted to drawing walks (see: Carlos Santana). Luckily, Muncy acquired the memo. A Z-Contact price of 87.3% represents the second-highest in his profession, and when he makes contact, he’s demolishing the baseball: Of 131 hitters with at the least 25 batted ball occasions, his wOBAcon of .541 is the eleventh highest.
The deadly mixture of a minuscule O-Swing% and a well-above-average Z-Contact% made me surprise – how does Muncy evaluate to different hitters in these regards? To seek out out, I plotted the O-Swing and Z-Contact charges of certified hitters on the x- and y-axis, respectively. Muncy is the purpose in yellow:
He’s not fairly on an island by himself, however the place he’s on a scatterplot doesn’t matter an excessive amount of. That is for enjoyable! For one thing extra substantial, I’ve an at-bat that captures Muncy’s meticulous method on the plate. It’s backside of the third, one out, with a person on second towards Rockies pitcher Antonio Senzatela. The Dodgers have a 3-0 lead. Right here’s the primary pitch:
A four-seam fastball straight down the pipe to Max Muncy – that might have been harmful. You would argue that Muncy ought to have swung at it, however letting just a few hittable pitches move by is the small sacrifice required to maximise one’s on-base potential. It’s high-quality. Onto the subsequent pitch:
Good take! The fastball wiggled throughout the strike zone earlier than veering up, however Muncy knew higher than to swing. The subsequent two pitches aren’t that notable. Senzatela threw a fastball on the knees for an additional known as strike, then he went again upstairs, which Muncy ignored. The depend is now 2-and-2. Muncy’s general swing price is 33.5% thus far this season, however on two-strike counts, he’s dialed it as much as 49.5%. Like most completed hitters, he is aware of when and when to not exude persistence:
Fouling off a well-located slider? Simply one other day within the workplace. This subsequent pitch, although, is the spotlight of this at-bat:
Overlook about Senzatela’s efficiency this season – that’s an ideal two-strike curveball. From his perspective, it will need to have been irritating to look at our protagonist not even full 1 / 4 of his swing earlier than letting the pitch hit the grime. Now, it’s a full depend. Will Senzatela problem him, or will he induce Muncy to chase? Right here’s the awaited finale:
The PA consequence: “Max Muncy flies out to heart fielder Garret Hampson.” It’s an anticlimactic ending towards a hittable changeup; Muncy even slammed his bat on the bottom in frustration. Regardless of the out, nevertheless, the previous occasions showcased lots of his qualities. For one, he didn’t swing and miss at a single pitch. He additionally ignored all the things exterior of the zone, and when he did swing, it was in a response to a transparent strike. Outdoors of perhaps lacking a first-pitch meatball, Muncy didn’t make a single mistake, discipline-wise. Typically, you simply get below the ball.
Apart from, he can do with out the additional hit. The Dodgers’ first baseman has been slashing .368/.520/.632 thus far, good for a 211 wRC+. After changing into a BABIP sufferer in 2020, his batted balls have roughly been discovering spots to land as hits. Venturing exterior the theme of plate self-discipline for a second, Muncy appears to be benefiting from pulling the ball much less. Beneath is information on his batted ball instructions from 2018 to now. The modifications are crystal clear:
Batted Ball Instructions, 2018-21
Why keep away from pulled balls? Groups like to shift towards left-handed sluggers within the mildew of Max Muncy, and final 12 months, he confronted one in 88.6% of his plate appearances. That, in tandem with common unhealthy luck with batted balls, is most definitely why Muncy’s batting common sat under the Mendoza line. What’s essential to watch, although, is whether or not he can replicate his offensive output of earlier years with extra up-the-middle and opposite-field balls. Certain, the shift gobbles up just a few hits right here and there, however the truth stays that pulled air balls present probably the most bang for a hitter’s buck.
Then once more, none of this would possibly find yourself mattering. We’re nonetheless in small pattern territory, the place information for a participant consists of lower than 100 batted balls. It’s potential that with time, Muncy returns to his pull-happy methods.
However… what if he continues to combine up his batted ball tendencies? And continues to put off unhealthy pitches and assault hittable ones? Once we write about small samples, these are the speculative questions we’re asking. If he does, it could signify the subsequent step for Max Muncy. I as soon as assumed that his breakout 2018 represented a brand new established order. He’d keep there for a bit, then decline with age. Because it seems, he’s greater than able to sharpening his already stellar plate self-discipline and addressing the shift, a brand new adversary. The Muncy of now could be maybe one of the best model but.