Manager Dave Roberts says Dodgers infielders Gavin Lux, Max Muncy passing the eye test

Gavin Lux fields a grounder during a workout.
Dodgers infielder Gavin Lux fields grounders during day two of spring training at Camelback Ranch.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Dave Roberts doesn’t put much stock in the defensive metrics available on websites such as Fangraphs and Baseball Savant, and not just because the Dodgers have their own internal system to measure how their players are performing in the field.

“The metrics certainly have a place, but I have two good eyes, or sorta good eyes, that watch every play that’s made,” the Dodgers’ manager said. “I watch the pre-pitch [movements of defenders]. I watch what plays I feel players should make or not make. And as a person who watches every single play, I trust my eyes.”

Those eyes continue to tell Roberts that the left side of his infield, with third baseman Max Muncy and shortstop Gavin Lux, “should be a strength” this season, and at the very least, “it shouldn’t be a detriment, for sure,” he said.

Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman combine for seven hits, five runs and four RBIs in a 7-4 spring training victory over Colorado.

March 3, 2024

Yet in the numbers could be a cautionary tale.

Muncy committed 16 errors last season, the second most among major league third basemen. He ranked last among 15 qualified third basemen with a .944 fielding percentage and 12th with a minus-3 defensive runs saved, according to Fangraphs. He ranked 33rd of 36 third basemen with minus-8 outs above average, according to Baseball Savant.


Lux sat out the 2023 season because of torn ligaments in his right knee and has started only 50 big league games at shortstop, all in place of injured Corey Seager in 2021. He committed seven errors in 471 innings at the position that season and accrued minus-5 outs above average, according to Baseball Savant.

“I wouldn’t say worried,” Roberts said, when asked how concerned he was about his left-side infield defense entering spring training. “Looking at Max, I’ve seen it better, and it needs to get better. I always say it’s easy to bet on certain people, and I feel confident [his defense] will get back to what it was [in 2022].

Dodgers infielder Max Muncy fields a grounder during the second day of spring training at Camelback Ranch.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“With Gavin, the No. 1 thing is you want him to be healthy, and from everything we’ve seen and heard, he is. Now, we’ve just got to get back to playing mode and compete mode. We’ve got to understand that it takes time to get back up to major league speed, and we feel that once the bell rings, he’ll be right where he needs to be.”

Three weeks into camp, Muncy has clearly made strides on defense, while Lux has stumbled out of the gate.

Lux bounced his first Cactus League throw past first base for an error against the Texas Rangers last Wednesday. He bobbled the second grounder hit to him and threw late and low to first base for another error against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday.


Though he made a diving catch of a low line drive to his left in Saturday’s split-squad game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Lux’s throw to first on a grounder to the hole nearly pulled first baseman Kevin Padlo off the bag.

“There’s got to be some nerves in the sense that he hasn’t played baseball in a year, and he wants to get out there and kind of pick up where he left off,” Roberts said. “My message to him was, ‘Hey, give yourself a little grace. Go out there, keep preparing, and the game will slow down as you get more innings.’ ”

While the pressure on Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to win a title has never been greater, he says “if you love what you do, you don’t feel any pressure.”

March 3, 2024

Lux, who came up through the minor leagues as a shortstop but has played mostly second base — and a fair amount of outfield — in four big league seasons, says he feels comfortable on the practice field and has had no issues during morning workouts. But he has struggled so far to adapt to game speed.

“I think right now his internal clock is kind of off,” said Miguel Rojas, who started at shortstop last season and is transitioning to a utility role this spring. “He doesn’t know how much time he has to get the guy out at first base or if he’s gonna be late. It’s a weird feeling, and I understand him … because I suffer from the same thing.”

Rojas, who ranked fifth among 20 qualifying shortstops with 12 defensive runs saved last season, has been working with Lux to develop some mental cues to keep his confidence up in the field.

“For me, it’s just simplifying everything — catch the ball, throw the ball,” Lux said. “The cues are things you say in your head over and over and get you back to where you need to be. … Miggy has been great. In my opinion, he’s probably the best defensive shortstop in baseball, so I’m just trying to pick his brain as much as possible.”


Rojas, who hit .236 with a .612 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, five homers and 31 RBIs last season, gives the Dodgers a valuable insurance policy at shortstop if Lux continues to struggle in the field, but he doesn’t have nearly the offensive upside of the left-handed-hitting Lux, who has a .253 average, .712 OPS, 18 homers and 105 RBIs in 273 career games.

Miguel Rojas makes a throw to first base while on the move to his left.
Veteran shortstop Miguel Rojas gives the Dodgers a solid backup at shortstop this season.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Lux is confident that as he gets regular reps over the final two weeks of camp before the season-opening series against the San Diego Padres in Korea, he will regain the form and confidence that made him Baseball America’s minor league player of the year in 2019. And he says he believes he will be able to showcase his athleticism more at shortstop.

“I feel free on that side of [second] base to run through balls, where at second base, with that close throw [to first], it’s a little awkward coming into balls, you’ve got to throw back towards the other side,” Lux said. “I grew up playing shortstop, so I think overall, once I get my legs back under me, I’m going to be much more comfortable.”

Muncy, like Lux, has played multiple positions — first base, second base, third base and designated hitter — in his six years with the Dodgers.

He solidified a lineup spot with a powerful bat that has produced a career .824 OPS and 35 homers or more in four of five full seasons, but with Freddie Freeman entrenched at first base, Mookie Betts at second base and Shohei Ohtani, who signed a 10-year, $700-million deal in December, at designated hitter, Muncy’s only option is to play third.

And to stay in the lineup, Muncy knows he must play better defense, which is why he lost 15 pounds during the offseason and adjusted his winter workout regimen to include more mobility and flexibility exercises to help him get lower to the ground to field ground balls.

“It’s just making sure my feet move a little bit more and getting the knees healthy,” Muncy said. “Last year I had a little trouble with not staying down on the ball. I was coming up out of my fielding stance. When you’re doing that, it’s hard to read the hops, and I kept putting myself in bad positions last year with bad hops.”


Muncy, who signed a two-year, $24-million contract with a $10-million club option for 2026 last fall, also had to clear his head of negative thoughts that he admits had a “snowball effect” after he committed two errors in the first six games of last season and misplayed a few more balls that were ruled hits.

“I know that’s not the defender that I am,” Muncy said. “I made a couple of bad plays at the beginning of the year, and that kind of sticks with you. Then it gets in your head that when the ball gets hit, you’re expecting something bad to happen, when in reality, I was the one creating the bad things.”

Muncy worked out with a smaller glove all winter in hopes of breaking a habit of relying too much on his bigger glove and not enough on positioning and form.

The Dodgers took a flier this offseason on James Paxton, who struggled at the end of last summer, and he showed some promise in his first spring start.

March 2, 2024

“It really made me focus on getting down on my legs and getting the glove down into the ground and moving through the ball,” Muncy said. “I feel good. The knees feel good. I feel like I’m moving well, my pre-pitch [routine] is good, I’m able to stay down on balls hit to me. I’m not coming up out of my stance, whether it’s on defense or in the box.”

All the hard work and adjustments might not result in a Gold Glove Award this season for Muncy, who was a more reliable defender in 2022, when he committed 10 errors in 80 games at third base and had minus-2 outs above average and minus-2 runs prevented, according to Baseball Savant.

But the Dodgers are already noticing the benefits of Muncy’s winter modifications.

“Defensively I think Max looks more confident,” Roberts said. “I think last year, starting off slow, kind of messed with him a little bit, and he became more tentative. Right now, he looks great physically, and mentally, and he’s got a lot of confidence defensively. Defense is like hitting. You get in slumps as well defensively.”