Adam Dunn Should Hit Better — But Not Much Better

Adam Dunn, he broken.

After signing a rather princely contract this past offseason, Dunn the Carriage morphed into Pumpkin Dunn. Last month, Dave Cameron looked at history’s greatest baseball disasters. Adam Dunn’s 2011 season was peerless.

Here’s the good news: Dunn should hit better.

And the bad: If and when his luck does start swinging around, he needs to change his approach or else he’s still going to be a black hole at DH.

The four chief determinants of a hitter’s performance are walks, strikeouts, homers and BABIP. This is the credo I uncovered with Should Hit, a super-simple offense predictor. With Should Hit (ShH), we can effectively guess approximately what weighted runs created plus (wRC+) a player can hit.

Using Should Hit Advanced Predictor — also known as ShHAP! — we can accurately predict how changes in Dunn’s BABIP, walk rate, K-rate or homer rate will affect his wRC+.

With ShHAP! BIP, we can regress Dunn to his career BABIP rates and hold all else constant. According to ShHAP! BIP, Dunn should hit better, but his second-worst walk rate (14.7%), his career-worst strikeout rate (35.7%) and his low homer rate have ensured he won’t hit much better with a normalized BABIP:

So, if and when his BABIP comes back to normal, he still really — really — needs to learn plate patience before he can find his stroke again.

Dunn has become the prototypical “pressing hitter.” He’s swinging like normal in almost every way — except for pitches out of the zone. Pitchers are throwing Dunn only 40% strikes — a career low. In apparent frustration, he has begun making great contact with those pitches:

Whatever Dunn is doing — whether it’s leaning out and trying to Guerrero some pitches into play, or he’s having trouble catching up with pitches, or he’s not predicting pitches well — he needs to stop. The high O-Contact numbers have resulted in a career-low BABIP on line drives and a second-worst BABIP on grounders. They’re also likely fueling his greatly reduced homer rate.

Pitchers have obliged his poor approach by just gingerly tossing nothing but fastballs (mostly outside of the zone):

So, maybe the low line-drive and ground-ball BABIP is just bad luck. But even if that’s true, he’s still going to be nearly league-average (close to 100 wRC+) if he can’t get his home-run rate back up and start taking walks again — and that starts with making contact on good hitter’s pitches.

Hopefully Dunn can fix this funk because waiting for his luck to turn around could take awhile.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

35 Responses to “Adam Dunn Should Hit Better — But Not Much Better”

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  1. alecthegreat says:

    All of this seems to support the idea that Dunn is simply trying too hard, he signed a big contract and isn’t with the Nats anymore, so maybe he really really trying to hit the ball- ALL of the time

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  2. Yirmiyahu says:

    I’d be shocked if he doesn’t put up at least a .340 wOBA next year. His track record is just too consistently good.

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  3. jwise224 says:

    While it can’t be measured and he might not admit it, Dunn’s problems are definitely in his head. And, as we all know, those are the hardest to fix. I think his return to “normalcy” is a total toss-up at this point.

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  4. fang2415 says:

    Brad, I commented on your last ShH article ( ), but I think the thread had died by then…

    In short: wouldn’t it to be simpler to just multiply singles, doubles, and triples by (career BABIP)/(BABIP) before doing a wOBA calculation? In other words, say “if this guy had his usual success rate on the outcomes that result from balls in play, his wOBA would be X instead of Y”.

    So Dunn’s wOBA is:
    .41*0+.71*65+.73*4+.89*36+1.27*13+1.61*0+2.07*11+.25*0-.5*1 = .270
    and his xwOBA (scaling 1B, 2B, and 3B to career BABIP levels) is:
    .41*0+.71*65+.73*4+(.292/.239)*(.89*36+1.27*13+1.61*0+2.07*11)+.25*0-.5*1 = .294

    I’m not sure of the formula to convert these to wRC+, but those wOBAs look like they’d be pretty close to your figures of 60 and 85 (and your conclusion that Dunn would still suck).

    I suspect that your regression actually does this already, but in a less transparent way…

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Excellent thoughts, fang!

      I like the idea of you’ve proposed here. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else has already proposed and implemented the process.

      However, it is important to consider that ShH has uses beyond just BABIP adjustments, which I touch on briefly above, but not in any great detail.

      And I’m sorry if ShH and ShHAP! seem non-transparent — I’ve done my best to explain its formation and equation in the first article. It’s really just a linear regression of the four “elements” on wRC+.

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      • fang2415 says:

        I think statcorner’s wOBAr is basically this; but another cool thing about scaling 1b, 2b, and 3b to cBABIP rates is that it could also work to help predict stats like OBP or even AVG that are used in fantasy leagues. (Dunn’s AVG is 160, but his xAVG is .190.)

        Also, I didn’t mean to say that your description wasn’t transparent — quite the contrary. What’s not transparent is the process of the regression itself, since a lot of inputs can be wrapped together in the regression variables. Using a BABIP-regressed wOBA formula, we can see exactly how much BABIP is affecting each component, and know exactly why it affects the outcome.

        What got me thinking about this was tango’s initial comment that the result of the ShH’s coefficients were rescalings of the linear weights in FIP and BABIP. That made me think that you could just use these weights directly, as in wOBA, but adjust them as you do with BABIP. So I do think that something like xwOBA contains the same information as ShH — ShH is just a little messier because it comes from observed data.

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  5. Brad Johnson says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    “Pitchers have obliged his poor approach by just gingerly tossing nothing but fastballs (mostly outside of the zone):”

    This is where I wish we had access to hit f/x. Pitchers throwing more fastballs is a potential indicator that advanced scouts have noticed that his bat speed is down or else that he has some kind of hitch that is preventing him from getting around on the heat with any conviction.

    I watch very little of the White Sox so I can’t weigh in on the matter myself.

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    • Colin says:

      From what I’ve seen from him, his bat speed does appear to be down. He used to have no trouble with the heat when I’ve seen him against the Tigs, the harder throwers are just blowing fastballs by him and he’s largely been late.

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    • Sox2727 says:

      It hasn’t even been just hard-throwers giving him problems. He is consistently getting blown away by 90mph fastballs

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  6. Oscar says:

    Natural regression will carry Dunn most of the way back.

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  7. DavidB says:

    The fact that he’s swinging at balls out of the zone less and missing fewer of them doesn’t sound like it should be a big warning sign. It is the biggest 2010-2011 delta so it makes sense you would focus on it but I saw something else.

    I’d say he’s losing his vision/strike zone judgement a bit. He is swinging less (both in and out of zone) but his z-swing percentage is down more. It looks like when he chooses a pitch to swing at he is worse at determining if it is in a hittable area. If I were the Sox I’d get his eyes checked (maybe in the offseason).

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  8. Bodhizefa says:

    If he actually starts losing some weight and getting in game shape (instead of the round and multi-chinned shape he’s sported this season), I think he could come back and be just as good as in the past. I hope he talks to Lance Berkman over the winter.

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    • Sophist says:

      or that he gets on the Konerko plan. That guy’s putting up some historic numbers for a guy his age.

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  9. I literally laughed out loud at the title to the last graph.

    Is there any precedent to a player in (or near) his prime suddenly hiking his O-Contact %? Has this happened in memory, and how did the player follow up?

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  10. deadpool says:

    Could it be as simple as he’s getting attacked more? I know that the tendency is to ignore protection, but I wonder if it has a systemic effect. Basically, could the NL as a unit be less aggressive with almost all hitters simply because the lineups are generally weaker?

    Dunn’s always been a guy who waits for mistakes and crushes them, but when he’s forced to swing (say on a 2 strike count) his contact rate has never been good. If he’s getting attacked then he’s probably being forced to swing at more pitches, and getting a little exposed in the process. All that to say I wonder if a super macro protection actually exists.

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  11. CircleChange11 says:

    According to ShHAP! BIP, Dunn should hit better, but his second-worst walk rate (14.7%), his career-worst strikeout rate (35.7%) and his low homer rate have ensured he won’t hit much better with a normalized BABIP:

    This is all related. If not cause-effect, then in a correllation fashion.

    Pitchers are simply challenging him repeatedly, and often with fastballs up in the strikezone (is it possible that high strikes are logged as balls out of the zone to Dunn because of his height?). I’ve watched quite a few Sox games here in NoIll, and pitchers (even mediocre ones) are flat out throwing the ball right by him as he swings under it (i.e., through it). It’s tough to watch. You feel bad for the guy. It’s like watching Pedro Cerano (Move: Major League) trying to hit a curveball.

    So, his walk rate is down because there’s no need to nibble, his strikeout rate is up because he swings and misses a ton and his BABIP is down because he makes such poor contactvas evident also by his reduced HR rate.

    It’s as if he went from using one those great big red barrel wiffle bats to using the skinny yellow one.

    I did not watch Dunn a lot in CIN, but he seems noticeably flabbier around the midsection this year. Now, conditioning can be over-rated in baseball due to aspects of it requiring natural abilities that are more important than running speed, leaping ability, and attributes that we often associate with athleticism in other sports. But, IMO, some of it is Dunn needing to get in better shape, and possibly get a little quicker with the bat.

    Seeing mediocre pitchers challenge Dunn with high heat and win those encounters is just mind-blowing. You see that crap and think “How did he not send that 450-feet away?”

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  12. Mac says:

    Nothing to say except Mr. Woodrum is fast becoming my favorite writer on this site.

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  13. Matt H says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    I’m not sure if that low BABIP is due to bad luck or just severe awfulness. Seems to me like Dunn is just so off his game that he can’t hit the ball hard, hence the low BABIP. I don’t think we can expect that to normalize unless the rest of his game improves as well.

    That being said, you never know what can happen in the off-season. Maybe he needs that mental and physical break, and he’ll be back to normal, or at least league average, by next year.

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    • jorgath says:

      Well, is his LD% down? That seems to me to be the surest indicator that someone’s BABIP is being affected negatively by the hitter in some way.

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      • Matt H says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        His LD% is actually a little higher than last year. However, there are two things that disturb me. One, his IFFB% is way up to 14.7% from 6.7% last year. That’ll lower your BABIP a lot. The other similar thing is his HR/FB ratio, which is only 10.7% after being over 20 for basically his whole career. You could attribute this to bad luck, but given how badly he’s hitting, I would be more apt to attribute it to weakly hit fly balls. Dunn has the same batted ball distribution as most years, but his fly balls aren’t being hit hard enough to leave the yard; in fact, many of them aren’t hit hard enough to leave the infield.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        This is what I notice. He swings under/late on everything.

        This could happen for a variety of reasons, either timing issues, hand/swing path issues, etc.

        I don’t recall Dunn having as open and crouched as a stance as he does now. But, that could just be me.

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  14. Dave says:

    Adam Dunn, please met Mo Vaughn and Rickie Sexson.

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  15. CharlesStrnad says:

    Sox fan for almost 50 years- have watched Dunn a lot this year, and the obvious basic problem I’ve seen is very slow bat speed. He’s not just out of shape- he may be washed up.

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  16. Swingdoc says:

    Dunn’s problems appear to be a progression of mechanical changes/issues which started in 2010. His O-Swing% went up considerably due to an apparent swing change with starting his swing with his hands too early (relative to his lower body. Starting w/ lower body allows a later commitment to swing and more time to evaluate the pitch). Given the huge jump in O-Swing% in 2010, it’s remarkable he posted the BABIP numbers he did last year.

    The other mechanical swing change seems to occurred later and seems to be the main cause of his power outage (Lower BABIP on LDs and much lower HR/FB rate). He’s anchoring his back side relative to his old swing. BABIP numbers won’t improve significantly until he fixes his mechanical issues – not much luck involved on this one.

    A comparison of the old and new swings are posted here:

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  17. Pg says:

    I hope he can resemble his former self at some point. I’m a die hard sox fan, but I had never seen Dunn play much prior to this year. In my estimation he has the longest, slowest swing I’ve ever seen. I don’t have much faith in a rebound, but it’s nice to see more statistically inclined people say otherwise.

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  18. Phantom Stranger says:

    There are also the rumored intangible personality issues that Dunn brings to the table and why so few teams were willing to commit long term to him. It’s been mentioned publicly by inside personnel with the teams he has played on that he has little passion for the game and some were worried this cratering would exactly happen once he got a long deal.

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  19. Dan^_^ says:

    (Adam Dunn………Where have you gone)

    [old Dunn] A Dunn homered to right.
    [new Dunn] A Dunn sucks.

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  20. Mr. Verlander says:

    I get him out with greater routine than most hitters.

    Very easy opponent.

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  21. macseries says:

    in other news, adam dunn can’t hit. film at 11.

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  22. dondraper says:

    I think Dunn in some ways is having a similar year to Heyward… Big drop in BABIP, high IFF rate, lower LD rate, jump in O-swing. I am pretty sure Heyward’s shoulder is not healed, and he is having to start his swing earlier than last year… Hence the drop in BB% as well. I have not seen much of Dunn, but on the surface they look like symptoms of the same or similar problems,

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  23. Miguel Cabrera says:

    Hola! Jhonny Peralta en un huevo!

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