Friday, March 16, 2012

Maybe Dunn Isn't Done

Adam Dunn's season was as historic a year ago as Babe Ruth's was in 1920. Nobody had ever seen a season like that before. But while Ruth's historic season was for all the right things, Dunn's was historic for all the wrong reasons. Nobody had ever seen a guy get 496 plate appearances and hit .159. Dunn struck out 36 percent of his at bats. Incredible. After averaging 40 homers a season for seven seasons, he hit eleven. His homer per fly ball rate went from eight straight seasons over 20 percent to 9.6 percent. His season reminds one of Yosemite Sam after a drawbridge fell on him and he was wobbling around like a pancake with legs. It was brutal.

So along comes the annual preseason predictions from colleagues at MLB Dirt. Two colleagues predicted Adam Dunn to be 2012's Comeback Player of the Year. Seriously? Can a guy ever come back from a season like that? Well. It's possible. It's not like Adam Dunn was old last season. It's not like he was 37 or something and his skills just evaporated. He played his historic season a year ago at the age of 31. So, Dunn is not over the hill. Plus, unlike most, he has a long-term guaranteed contract that sort of forces the White Sox not to give up on him. But will it happen?

To gauge other thoughts on the subject, all the major projection systems were consulted. While none believe a collapse like last year is possible, they all think that Dunn will not recover completely. Predictions for his batting average ranged from a low of .209 to a high of .225. Remember, we are talking about a guy who hovered just above and below the .250 mark for years and years. Home run predictions range from 20 to 28. Again, we're talking about a guy who averaged 40 for seven straight seasons. 

Dunn's manager, Ozzie Guillen, has gone on record as stating that coming into camp last season and watching Dunn take batting practice, Guillen knew they had a problem on their hands. Dunn's Spring Training last season did not shout alarm. Yes, he batted only .224 in camp last year. But he hit three homers, four doubles and even hit a triple. Production-wise, it was his best Spring Training in three years. But there was one cause of alarm. In 2011's Spring Training, Adam Dunn struck out 27 times in just 67 at bats. That was a 40 percent strikeout rate.

Dunn, to his credit, has been all positive this spring. He himself predicts he will win the Comeback Player of the Year Award. That's awesome for him as a person as most of us would deal with such colossal failure by hiding under a rock somewhere. Are there any signs that Dunn can back up his prediction? As you have been told in this space a million times, spring statistics are meaningless. But we can use them as a sign that a player has a possibility of recovering from disaster.

Again, Dunn struck out 27 times in 67 at bats last spring. This spring, he has played seven games (hardly a proper sample size) and has thirteen at bats. He has only stuck out once. That's right. Once. With last year's strikeout rate, he should have struck out five times already. So that's a positive sign. Again, in a puny sample size, Dunn is batting just over .300 with two homers. Those are good signs.

The White Sox, with their outlay of money on Dunn's contract, have to give Dunn a chance to prove that last year was an outliers. The consideration here is that his track record has to be taken into consideration as hard as that might be after last year's horrid season. The prediction here is that he will bat over .230, hit 35 homers and get on base at an over .350 clip. If those predictions are close, he has that trophy in the bag.

1 comment:

Thomas Slocum said...

The historic when describing Dunn's 2011 is the wild card. If he'd simply had a low-level Dave Kingman year (.210, 25 homers) expecting him to bounce back to something more in his normal neighborhood would be reasonable, maybe even a near given. But .159, 11 is unprecendented on so many levels that reasonable expectations are virtually impossible to quantify (witnessed by the various projections you cite that, in themselves, are giving at least some weight to Dunn's nadir). Let's face it, Dunn's 2011 was so abysmal (read - in the abyss) that, improvement-wise, a Mark Reynolds type season (.200, 32 homers, 200+ K's) would qualify him for Comeback Player of he Year (though he almost certainly wouldn't win it with those numbers). I'll be rooting for him - there's nothing about the guy not to like (at least prior to 2011).