Because he’s unlike any other player in the league, I love Adam Dunn. It’s the same reason that I loved David Eckstein or Pedro Martinez or Vladimir Guerrero—they are all thoroughly and completely themselves. And while there are plenty of low-average sluggers or guys who can take a walk, no one has become the complete package of strangeness that is Adam Dunn.
Advanced metrics like WAR attempt to boil all of his traits down to a single number, factoring in his walks and power with his lack of footspeed and defensive difficulties, but how successful are they really? Here are a few of Dunn’s rankings this season following his two home run game last night:
- HR: 41 (3rd)
- RBI: 94 (18th)
- AVG: .210 (2nd to last)
- OBP: .339 (78th)
- SLG: .489 (41st)
- BB: 100 (1st)
- SO: 207 (1st)
Nothing too shocking there. Dunn’s power is amazing, but his inability to put the bat on the ball brings down all of his rate statistics.
- WAR: 1.9 (130th)
- wOBA: .355 (46th)
- wRC+: 120 (51st)
Obviously, Dunn’s average completely cratering this season, at least compared to his pre-2011 numbers, have dragged down his value significantly. It’s a much different story when Dunn is getting on base nearly 40% of the time compared to his current, nearly league-average rate of .339.
But which these numbers accurately convey who Dunn is? Very few hitters have the ability to pound out 40 home runs, but according to WAR, Dunn is near the very bottom among all qualified players. Is a player with that kind of power and patience really worth that little? Then again, if we just take those power numbers and ignore everything else, we overvalue a man without a position and where nearly half of his plate appearances end in a a walk, strikeout, or home run. True fact: Dunn has only 19 doubles and 47 singles. It’s conceivable, though unlikely, that he could finish with more home runs than singles. That’s strange.
And here is where we may see the importance of roster construction. While every team would love it if their club was full of patient, high-average, powerful hitters with speed, that’s simply not possible. But for a team to be able to properly carry a player like Dunn, a fully rounded lineup would be most beneficial. You would still want the OBP guys to get on base for Dunn, but you’d also want a number of guys who can put the ball in play, to keep pitchers from routinely posting double-digit strikeout games. Notice I didn’t say slap hitters— there is a big difference between a player who can hit for average and a guy slapping at every pitch that’s thrown his way.
And this is where we see how good a fit Dunn is with the White Sox. While the team has plenty of power, both because of the state of their home ballpark and the emergence of AJ Pierzynski and Alex Rios in addition to the steady Paul Konerko, everyone could use another 40 HR in the lineup. The team also has a mix of guys who can get on base: Konerko is the definition of a steady hitter, Alejandro De Aza actually has a higher OBP than Dunn, and they added the Greek God of Walks midseason. However, the club is near the middle of the pack in OBP because of anti-walk kings like Rios, Alexei Ramirez, and Dayan Viciedo, further adding value to Dunn’s ability to take four wide ones.
Most importantly, the team does not strike out. If we were to remove Dunn from the equation and slot in a player with, let’s say, 75 strikeouts, that would put the club near the Twins for second fewest strikeouts in baseball. As the Diamondbacks proved just a few years ago when Mark Reynolds, Chris Young, and Adam Laroche helped the club to the Major League record for most strikeouts in a season, all of that power and all of that strength was useless when players were kept off the basepaths as they swung wildly and had to sit back down.
While strikeouts are often no worse than any other kind of out, the fact is that there is a difference, no matter how slim. Dunn’s skills are useful, but he can’t be put into a vacuum and be inserted into any lineup. His home runs sure are pretty to watch, but his bat needs to be weighted evenly by the rest of the team. The White Sox, imperfect as they may be, are a pretty good match.