Adam Dunn Rediscovering Identity

Truth be told, I don’t know all that much about Chris Cornell. Were I in charge of a massive Chris Cornell museum, I’d constantly be thinking to myself, “I don’t know how this happened.” But I know a few years ago, Cornell went solo and released an album that was a complete departure from his previous music. It sold, but people didn’t really like it that much, and before long Cornell was back to being Cornell again. Soundgarden released “King Animal” in 2012 and the solo album is just this weird thing that people remember. Maybe Cornell had to try it, just to see.

A little under a month ago, Dave Cameron wrote an article here titled “Adam Dunn’s Failed Experiment.” Dunn, of course, is one of the first guys you think of when you’re playing three-true-outcome free association, as he built a solid career upon dingers, walks, and strikeouts. Dunn was always a patient sort, but he got off to a miserable start in 2013, and that was accompanied by a curious uptick in aggressiveness. Cameron highlighted a quote showing that Dunn was going to be more aggressive on purpose. Dunn was pretty good in 2012, all things considered, and no one would’ve predicted him to try to change things up at 33, but he made a change and the early results were deplorable.

Prepare yourselves now for a hike through the thick forest of arbitrary endpoints. Over 17 games, through April 21, Dunn posted a .421 OPS, with three walks and 26 strikeouts. Though Dunn didn’t play on Wednesday, since April 22 he’s played 13 games, and he’s posted a .768 OPS with nine walks and 15 strikeouts. That says a little, but not a lot, and the same goes for the following quote from Rick Hahn:

“[Dunn] tried to do some things differently early in terms of his approach,” said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. “You’ve seen in the last week or so he has drifted back to what he had been doing for the bulk of his career previously when he had this success. We are still seeing the power. We are seeing more walks recently and that’s fundamentally who he is.”

It’s easy to look at a few numbers, and to listen to a quote. It’s worth looking at more numbers, numbers that might be more telling. Do we see more evidence that Adam Dunn is more or less getting back to normal? It sure seems that way.

Time Strike% Zone% Z-Swing% O-Swing% Swing% 1stSwing%
Through 4/21 64% 52% 69% 28% 49% 43%
Since 4/22 55% 41% 59% 25% 39% 18%
2008-2013 57% 45% 62% 24% 41% 26%

It’s imperative to acknowledge how little data we’re playing with, but if any 2013 data’s going to mean anything, it’s data like this. Dunn has gone beyond halving his rate of first-pitch swings. His overall swing rate is way down, and while part of that is because his zone rate is also down, you can see a drop of ten percentage points in terms of Z-Swing%. I’m not trying to suggest that everything flipped back on April 22, but it seems like, as time has passed, Adam Dunn has gone back to batting the way he used to find most comfortable.

Dunn himself doesn’t seem to think he’s made much of an adjustment, saying he takes things day by day, and pitcher by pitcher. But then, something like this is pretty subtle at the time, and it might not feel conscious. It’s a matter of an extra swing every now and again, and not a total, dramatic change. If we take those Z-Swing rates to represent true talents, we’re talking about seven swings per ten strikes, and then six swings per ten strikes. It’s a small thing that looks bigger in a data table.

We can’t say where Dunn is going to go from here, but he’s generated good results with a more patient approach and terrible results with a more aggressive approach, so it stands to reason he’s probably going to look a lot like the familiar Adam Dunn, which would be welcome for a White Sox team that has just been humiliating itself at the plate. The White Sox don’t have a lower wRC+ than the Marlins, but they have a lower wRC+ than everybody else, and the Marlins haven’t had a healthy Giancarlo Stanton or any version of Logan Morrison. The White Sox need Dunn to hit, and other people to hit too, and Dunn’s always hit when he’s been himself.

There are some lessons here. One might be that it’s seldom a good idea to make a fundamental change to an approach that’s pretty much always worked. Dunn was established as what he was, and just because the rest of the White Sox’s lineup is pretty aggressive doesn’t mean Dunn had to work to fit in. Sometimes it’s necessary to make that sort of change, but Dunn’s numbers didn’t suggest a need. So this was curious from the get-go.

There’s the matter of not all player adjustments working out. The Mariners — who are most familiar to me — have gone through this with Dustin Ackley. Ackley showed up in the spring with a new batting stance, and he took it into the season, but he didn’t hit and then he basically reverted to what he was before. Players are frequently making changes, and they’re always publicly optimistic, since they wouldn’t be trying to make changes if they didn’t think the changes would help. But sometimes they don’t help, no matter what the players say or think or do, and so just because a guy is making an adjustment doesn’t mean we should expect it to go smoothly.

And changes are difficult to implement, especially for the established. What we can’t say for certain is that Dunn had the wrong idea. Maybe Dunn was on to something, and maybe in the long run, he would’ve succeeded as a more aggressive hitter. He might still do that. Maybe he was bound to experience some hiccups, since adjustments take time and major-league competition is really good. But when a player struggles, it’s natural for the player to go back to doing things the way he did before the struggles. This is the way it can be with hitting approaches, and this is the way it can be with pitching mechanics. It’s hard to stick with a plan when the plan isn’t working, and early on Dunn’s plan wasn’t working, even though a low BABIP suggested some real misfortune. Players usually can’t afford to stay static, not in the bigs, but development and change don’t come easy or smoothly. Dunn tried to change and it looks like he’s all but given it up after just a few weeks.

I don’t know what it would be like to live in a world in which Adam Dunn is an aggressive-swinging batsman. Dunn has long been one of baseball’s true constants, and if Dunn were to change, who else could I trust? Thankfully, it looks like Adam Dunn has rediscovered himself. Maybe he’ll still go back to the spring-training plan, but for the time being, I’m happy to embrace the familiar.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

23 Responses to “Adam Dunn Rediscovering Identity”

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  1. Steve says:

    I’d bat Dunn 2nd.

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  2. Jon L. says:

    Jeez, all these walks all of a sudden. It’s just not White Sox baseball.

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  3. Paul says:

    I like the Chris Cornell comparison, but he did in fact release a few solo albums over the years. The earlier ones were similar to the Soundgarden/Audioslave stuff, but the last one stands out because he thought it would be raptastic while his fans just thought it was craptastic.

    For Dunn, having watched him miss on quite a few not-so-devastating fastballs last year, I think he was thinking about the dollar signs. He knew that if he couldn’t do something to catch up to the FB, he was not going to see another contract in his career. Rather than choking up on the bat, or going with a smaller bat, or starting earlier, maybe he just decided that he could achieve the same result without the negative trade-offs of those other changes, by swinging at a higher proportion FBs. Even if he didn’t improve his contact rate on FBs, he’d have better results by swinging at more of them.

    Of course, it doesn’t look like it worked. But like Cornell, if a failed experiment leads to a better result, it’s worth it. Dunn is no spring chicken (and he can’t just pump steroids like some aging sluggers did not so long ago), and at his age sometimes guys have to tinker a lot to stick around. Instead of just pretending raptastic Cornell album ever happened, I choose to believe that it led to a really awesome comeback album for Soundgarden, long after they should have gone out to pasture.

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    • “Euphoria Morning” was reasonably similar to Soundgarden. “Scream” was considered by most critics to be a misbegotten disaster. And then the band got back together.

      Of course, commerce may have brought the band back together in any event. “King Animal” is a pretty good album. So is “Black Turns to Blue,” the Alice in Chains comeback record. I’m just happy to be able to hear Kim Thayil play guitar again. That dude is sick.

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      • dude says:

        Soundgarden is an amazing band. King animal is solid, but not really close to any of their past work.

        Euphoria morning was also a pretty good album. Temple of the dog is also a strong album.

        Audioslave’s first 2 albums were also pretty good, but their third and final album wasn’t.

        I’m not sure what the hell happened after that. Even his lyrics fell apart.

        I suppose king animal is chris cornell’s regression towards his soundgarden peak, but with the age curved added in that doesnt get him quite all the way back to where he once was.

        At this point, I suppose Dunn owners are hoping for just that.

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        • wobatus says:

          I’d take Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du or even Young Fresh Fellows over Soundgarden. Apples and oranges I guess but I just never liked Soundgarden.

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  4. KCDaveInLA says:

    I like the slugger/alt-rock comparison. I think of Andruw Jones like Fred Durst. He was huge for quite a while then all the sudden he wasn’t.

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  5. TheGrandslamwich says:

    All I know is I haven’t heard Adam Dunn make a seal clubbing joke yet this season. This needs to be remedied.

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  6. OldDogScout says:

    Interesting, Nats GM Rizzo gets rid of Dunn, Nats improved from 59 games to 95 games. Dunn then with Chi-Sox, leads league in whiffs & useless homers while hitting his weight culminating in both the GM & Mgr both being fired.


    Nah, as you guys always point out when a finding is not to your liking: “small sample size” -or- “no significant correlation”.

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    • deadpool says:

      Congratulations. As you may know, the internet was founded so that the most asinine comment in all of history could be made. With you having just accomplished that, I now declare that there is no longer a need for the internet, and it will be canceled. Thank you and good luck in your future endeavors.

      In all honesty, thank you for letting me do that Community homage.

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    • junco says:

      The Nats only won 80 games in 2011. Then the calendar year changed to 2012 and they won 98 games. Coincidence? I think it’s pretty clear that the Nats should be playing every season in 2012.

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    • Josh says:

      1) In 2012, Dunn’s second season with the White Sox, they led the division for most of the year.
      2) The GM, Kenny Williams, was not fired. He was promoted.
      3) The manager, Ozzie Guillen, was not fired. He was traded.
      4) Just because you have the ability to write a comment doesn’t mean you need to, especially if you are posting factually inaccurate information.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • That's Just F-in Stupid says:

      Well that’s just f-in stupid.

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  7. Ryan says:

    2012 Adam Dunn: 12.8% of the Chi-Sox runs, 1.7 WAR, not even enough to warrant being a starter. My favorite anomaly.

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  8. Ctownboy says:

    Has Adam Dunn REALLY changed anything since April 21 or have the pitchers changed the way they are going about pitching to Dunn?

    In his earlier years, Dunn did nothing but sit and look for fast balls over the inner part of the plate between the upper thigh and belt and try and pull them for Home Runs. It didn’t matter what their speed was. Then, in 2011, it looked like his bat speed fell and he couldn’t get around on faster fast balls.

    The last I saw, there was a stat earlier in the year that said Dunn couldn’t hit fast balls that were 93 MPH or higher. So, he can’t get around on those pitches anymore and has to wait for slower stuff out over the middle of the plate.

    Yet, there have been some games that I have watched where pitchers have blown 93+ MPH fast balls by Dunn early in the count to get ahead and then they have nibbled at the corners with off speed and breaking stuff and eventually walked Dunn.

    Again, is that Dunn changing his way of hitting and reverting to his old self or pitchers (or catchers or the opposing manager, whoever is calling the pitches) scared to throw Dunn a fast ball for fear that he MIGHT get a hold of it for a Home Run?

    If I were an opposing pitcher who had 93+ MPH heat, I would continue to throw that to Dunn until he PROVED he could hit it. Just like when he could get around on those pitches earlier in his career but couldn’t hit a Slider to save his life. When they needed an out, pitchers would shelve the inside fast balls and go with sliders to get Dunn out.

    Nope, to me, Dunn has a slider speed bat now and opposing teams are too dumb or too scared to realize it. So instead of going right after him with hard stuff they are starting to nibble with off speed and breaking stuff and are walking him.

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  9. Shlum says:

    The in-text links to related articles are cool, but would the FG staff ever consider providing a bibliography of sorts at the end of the article? Maybe one that could be hidden/unfolded by click?

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  10. Henry says:

    well you see, you got yer tee doubleya tee doubleya, and that’s the most important thing: THE WILL TO WIN.

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