Adam Dunn: A Horror Story

Adam Dunn is an interesting fellow. He’s enormous and awkward looking, like the center for your middle school basketball team, the difference being that Dunn is an adult paid to play a professional sport. He was even fairly swift for a time, stealing 19 bases in 2002. As he aged and thickened, he became a quasi-symbol of the statistical revolution when defense was an after-thought, routinely hitting 40 HR and getting on base nearly 40% of the time despite leading the league in strikeouts and rarely hitting above .260.

But damn it if he wasn’t successful. Through 2010, playing in the National League clubs as a miscast first baseman/left fielder, he posted a .902 OPS with 354 HR. At the age of 30, he was making an oddly compelling Hall of Fame case. 

And then he joined the White Sox, a move everyone lauded. Surely, giving up paying attention to defense and moving into US Cellular’s cozy field meant an endless stream of 50 HR seasons were in his future. It didn’t quite work out.

His first year in Chicago, Dunn had one of the all-time worst seasons, hitting .159/.292/.277 with only 11 HR. His OPS was the lowest in the game, almost half of the league-leading Jose Bautista. If he was a pitcher, he would have ranked seventh in the metric and he was earning $12 million just to hit.  His rWAR that season was -2.8, the worst  ever by a designated hitter. Among all players, it was the 12th worst season, Jerry Royster somehow getting a whopping -4.0 as a utility man for the Braves in 1977.

Last year, Dunn returned to be the player we always knew. He hit 41 HR, struck out a career high 222 times, but also lead the league in walks with 105. Sure, he hit only .204/.333/.468, but he was at least valuable again, even if his .800 OPS was second only to his embarrassing 2011. Nothing really changed in how he was making contact, but his HR/FB rate corrected itself, flies going out of the park 29% of the time compared to 9% in 2011. If this was the hitter the White Sox would have through 2014, they could probably stand it. 

That wouldn’t last long. This year, Dunn is hitting a terrifying .159/.257/.385. He’s on pace to strike out 210 times, but walk only 68 times, the lowest total for a full season. He still has plenty of power, on pace to hit 37 HR, but there’s not much value in a DH with a .654 OPS, no matter how many long flies he hits. Dunn already has a -1.2 rWAR,  on pace for another -2.8 rWAR season. Making him a repeat offender for worst DH season.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of reason to think he’ll improve. His batted ball numbers are roughly in line with his career averages, the biggest difference simply that he’s swinging a little more often than his career average and making less contact. And while the Braves could stand by BJ Upton, having identified a mechanical flaw and at least getting his speed and defense, Dunn doesn’t have anything to offer beyond majestic home runs and the ability to work a count. The only hope is that Dunn’s BABIP is an unsustainable .170, far below even the .240s he’s had in his two years with the White Sox. That’s hope, right? A few more singles a week? 

And while the White Sox are struggling with an offense featuring two players hitting under .200 and a second baseman with an OPS under .500, at least those are new problems. Dunn’s are a repeat, an unfunny Big Bang Theory episode on TBS, costing $15 million to watch it. With a farm system largely bereft of talent as former-GM Kenny Williams kept the team in a constant state of maybe-we-can-contend ready, Dunn could get one more year with the Pale Hose simply because the team can’t expect Lars Anderson (.534 OPS in AAA this year) to do any better. 

I love watching a good dinger and Adam Dunn was always fun to watch simply because enormous men hitting enormous fly balls is a simple pleasure. At this point though, it’s just painful. As his bat speed slows in his mid-30s, things aren’t going to get much better.

  1. jgeneric reblogged this from oldtimefamilybaseball
  2. northstar78 said: Fuck the White Sox.
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  9. rosinia said: He’s dog shit.
  10. oldtimefamilybaseball posted this
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