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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.