Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dunn in

Adam Dunn comes around third base Wednesday
with his second home run of the game at Target Field.
Adam Dunn hit three home runs against the Twins this week and missed out on a fourth only because Aaron Hicks reached over the center field fence to take one away from him.

This outburst elevated Dunn's slash line on the season to .156/.255/.391.  Combined with all the other flaws in his game, that should logically make him a release candidate. But the White Sox are committed to $15 million to him not only this season but next, so he's sticking around.

Dunn has always been something of a litmus test on talent judgment. He does two things well, or at least did during his 20s, and again last season: draw walks and hit home runs.  He was never a high-average hitter, but in his 20s Dunn hit 40 homers almost every season and salted the power with 100-plus walks. The result were on-base percentages around .380 and slugging percentages around .580.

Those are strong markers. The flip side of it is, those were the only things he did to help. Even in his youth — he's 33 now — he couldn't run and had no defensive position. As for his approach to the game, I suspect his nickname of "Donkey" is at least as much about his stubbornness and unwillingness to adapt as for his strength.

Dunn has often been described by stat-oriented writers as a "great" hitter; I think great hitters are more capable of adjusting than Dunn has been. Dunn has often been described as having great strike-zone judgment; I think he's more aware of his strike zone – the pitches and areas he can hit — than of the real strike zone, which is part of why he has led the majors four times in strikeouts.

J.P. Riccardi, then the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, took a lot of flack from Dunn's admirers a while back when, in a radio interview, he dismissed the notion of trading for Dunn with a comment along the lines of He doesn't like to play baseball. That may not have been the best choice of words, but they evoke the sense that Dunn wasn't interested in shoring up the weak parts of his game.

How fair that assessment was back then, I can't say. No amount of work was ever going to make Dunn a fast runner. Whether he really made an effort to become a good outfielder or first baseman, I don't know. Whether he ever tried to learn an alternative approach to hitting that was less boom or bust — something to be used when the tying run's on third base with one out — I don't know.

Dunn's game has fallen off since he arrived in the American League; his slash line with the White Sox, in two-plus seasons, is a paltry .181/.309/.385. Yes, he had a big series against the Twins; I believe that was more about the flaws in the Twins pitching than about what Dunn brings to the table these days.

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