Dodgers: Max Muncy and the Curious Case of the Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers and National League competes in the first round during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Nationals Park on July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers and National League competes in the first round during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Nationals Park on July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Before any names are announced for the Home Run Derby, fans are split right down the center.  Some fear that the glorified version of BP would ruin a swing, while others trust nothing will happen.  The Dodgers’ breakout star Max Muncy is the latest player to be thrown under the microscope because of the HR derby.

The truth is nobody definitively knows how or why the derby ruins some players but others are “exempt from its curse”.

Max Muncy participated in the derby this summer. He seems to have fallen off a cliff since the event. Muncy was slashing .271/.409/.604 before the all-star break. Since returning from the break he has regressed tremendously, slashing .179/.266/.393.

Another figure that has dropped off is his at-bats per home run. Before the break, that number was at a historic 10.23 a number that would’ve placed him 25th all-time (behind Bonds x5, McGwire x4, and Sosa x3) in a single season for that category.

However, since that remarkable start, he has more than doubled that number. His AB’s per HR are now at 11.6 and climbing for the season and 28 for the second half.

However, is this slump a result of Muncy’s participation in the Derby? Well, it could be. Or maybe not.

It is hard to know for sure what the culprit behind Muncy’s struggles are. The derby could definitely be a factor, but it could also be a normal regression. If Muncy wouldn’t have participated in the Derby he may still very well be slumping at this moment.

Muncy is no longer a secret. He was the team’s best hitter during the first half. The rest of the MLB has taken notice. Before this season not many people knew of Max Muncy, which was to his advantage. When looking at the Dodgers lineup, teams weren’t circling Muncy’s name. He was just another guy, the focus was centered on guys like Bellinger, Turner, Kemp and Taylor.

Teams now have a better scouting report on “Funky Muncy”, which has also shown. They are finding more and more ways to get him out.

To a guy like Muncy who was struggling for so long before finding success this season, getting into a slump could affect him more than a household name. This is indeed evident in his numbers.

Muncy was extremely patient early on in the season and rarely struck out. He struck out 28% of the time in the first half. To put that in perspective, the best player in baseball Mike Trout strikes out 26% of the time, Muncy was having quite the season.

Now that number in the second half is at an astonishing 46%. This tells me that Muncy is not being as patient, which is likely because he is being hyper aggressive to counteract his struggles, but he is only hurting himself.

On the other hand, it could be the Derby. Some players like Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton just have that archetype to be in and recover from the derby.

For a player like Muncy who just recently found success due to his newfound approach with the Dodgers, participating in the derby could have reset him back into the old bad habits that had originally kept him from being the player he was this year.

The Derby is a non-factor for players who have been using the same approach for basically their entire life (ie: Ken Griffey Jr. and Bryce Harper) but Muncy has just learned his approach and the derby could have halted his progress.

There is no way of truly knowing what the definitive answer is. It could just be a normal regression for a player who came out of nowhere, but it could also be attributed to his participation in the illustrious home-run derby.

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Last season Cody Bellinger competed in the event and saw little to no regression in terms of his second-half numbers. His power did dip a little, but both his batting average and OBP saw an uptick. His weaknesses were taken advantage of in the World Series but that is no fault of the derby.

Similarly, in 2016, Seager who participated in the derby that season saw his power diminish a bit, but also significantly improved his average and OBP.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and glitter though for past Dodger derby participants. Joc Pederson had a horrendous second half in 2015 after dueling in the derby. Joc saw all of his numbers take a significant nose dive after the event. Very similar to that of Max Muncy.

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The bottom line is if you participate in the derby, and struggle in the second half people point to that. But if you are able to continue your production everybody forgets you were even a participant. The home run derby will always be fun to watch and it will always cause controversy if a player struggles afterwards.