Adam Dunn Undone

Can Dunn revive?

When the White Sox signed Adam Dunn to a 4-year, $56 million deal in December 2010, he finally got the recognition from the free agent market he deserved.

As one of baseball’s most consistent players from 2004 to 2010, Dunn averaged a line of .253/.381/.533 with 40 homers per season in the seven years before he signed with Chicago. In fact, during the four years Dunn hit exactly 40 home runs his combined slash line was .245/.381/.524. That’s consistency.

Since he became the White Sox DH, the Three True Outcomes poster boy has had three different seasons. Over the first three years of his contract, Dunn has a combined triple-slash line of just .197/.317/.405 with 11, 41, and 34 home runs, respectively, in 2011, 2012, and 2013. An 18.2 bWAR player entering 2011, Dunn has been worth -1.7 bWAR over the past three seasons.

Dunn’s 2011 season, when he hit just .159 with a .292 on-base percentage and .277 slugging mark was a complete disaster. During 2012, Dunn hit .204/.333/.468 but surged back to 41 home runs. In 2013 there were enough bright spots to learn a few lessons for getting the most out of the last year of his contract.

Dunn, two seasons removed from an epic collapse, four or five years past from his prime, may be the safest alternative for at bats of the three. At least when he looks locked in.

Last year Dunn drew 76 walks, taking free passes at a 12.5% clip. He also struck out 189 times, in 31.1% of his plate appearances. Those rates are down from 2012 when Dunn walked in 16.2% of his PAs and struck out in 34.2%, but are in the same general range. 

Even during his down year in 2011 Dunn drew 75 walks. While not up to the standards he set in the five years between 2004 and 2008, taking at least 100 walks each year, Dunn still has some ability to get on base.

However, Dunn, a left-handed hitter, has platoon issues. As a lefty facing southpaw pitchers, Dunn hit .197/.296/.385 in 2013, good for a .681 OPS. Against righties Dunn hit a more robust .226/.327/.459 for an OPS of .786. For a DH, Dunn’s production against same-sided pitchers is less than desirable considering he’s not bringing on-field talents to the table as well.

As Dunn, 34, enters this season, his power has been on the decline. Although he followed up his 11 homer season in 2011 with 41 long balls in 2012 and 34 in 2013, the Big Donkey’s doubles power fell from the mid-to-high 20s to the teens over the past few years. Considering that Dunn has hit just two triples since 2007, when combined with home run totals that have been all over the map, a 6’6” singles hitter with an OK ability to walk isn’t what the White Sox need.

The presence of Jose Abreu and Paul Konerko also complicate matters, making it essential that Dunn is handled in a way to take full advantage of his remaining skills. And that likely means reduced playing time, which, before the season at least, Dunn is OK with. 

But that solution isn’t without it’s faults: Dunn hit .272/.381/.498 with 18 of his 31 home runs and 10 of his 15 doubles between June and August of 2013. That doesn’t make lineup construction any easier given that the White Sox have three players to cover DH and first base. Even when considering Dunn’s past as a left fielder, putting him in the outfield during a game is a measure to be reserved for extra innings or a temporary double switch during an interleague game.

The end result may be that Dunn was better than Konerko last season and has a few years of age on his side that could allow him to claim a job while the Pale Hose legend has more of a ceremonial roster spot than a guaranteed presence. Add to that the fact that Jose Abreu will be entering his first season in North America and suddenly, Dunn, two seasons removed from an epic collapse, four or five years past from his prime, may be the safest alternative for at bats of the three. At least when he looks locked in.

A .211/.348/.469 slash line against righties in 2012 and a matching .226/.327/.459 line in 2013 may not look like an offensive force, but they show what remains of Dunn: low contact, an ability to get on base, and some pop. 

At $15 million, Dunn will almost certainly be overpaid in 2014, but if he’s used mostly against righties, he might contribute enough to stay in the lineup or maybe even find his way to a team looking for some help at the trade deadline.

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