Dear Adam Dunn: Stop Stinking

Adam Dunn has been one of the most consistent players in baseball during the past eight seasons. King of the three true outcomes, Dunn could be counted on to post high walk and strikeout rates, and regularly knock the ball out of the yard. From 2004 to 2010, his raw home run totals were eerily consistent: 46, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38. Now? Well, that level of consistency is unlikely to be replicated, since he’s mired in an epic slump, the likes of which he’s never experienced in his career.

Through 66 games and 275 plate appearances, Dunn is hitting a measly .173/.308/.316. His walk rate is in line with his career mark — and his OBP is still high relative to his batting average — but the slash line components sandwiching that rate are downright miserable. Given his propensity to strike out, Dunn never has been known for posting high batting averages. But these days, he’s whiffing at an otherworldly level.

While his batting average on balls in play is low at .262, this isn’t a case of a putrid success rate suppressing otherwise decent numbers. He’s struggling to make contact, and he’s not faring all that well when he does connect.

Entering the season, there were three or four sure things in baseball. Dunn posting a .240+ ISO was one of them.* At .143, though, he’s 122 points below his .265 career average. And while 275 plate appearances is still a small sample, we’re deep enough into the season to start wondering whether he’ll go back to the old Adam Dunn.

While my colleagues have attempted to determine the root cause of his issues, I’m more curious as to how frequently someone has cratered in this fashion.

* – The others would be Jeff Francoeur performing well enough early on to make some wonder if he’d turned the corner (I even did a study on it!); a very good pitcher having his talent questioned due to a fluky BABIP (Matt Garza, Cliff Lee); and someone potentially getting overrated due to a very high UZR in a very small sample (Brett Gardner).

Given his level of consistency and the depths to which his numbers have fallen this year, there are two main questions that spring to mind:

1. How frequently do batters experience such a sharp ISO decline from an established level?
2. How frequently do batters strike out more than 40 percent of the time in a full year?

To attack the first question I pooled together all four-year spans since 1950, and I used the first three years of the span to determine the true-talent-level isolated power mark. The fourth year then was compared to the average. This way I could avoid using a one-year sample to make determinations. The players had to tally at least 1,500 plate appearances during the first three years, though there was no yearly minimum. I figured 1,500 PAs was a sizable enough number that, no matter how the amount was reached, the true-talent-level could be estimated.

Of the 21,640 four-year spans in the sample, only 5,251 met the 1,500 plate appearances minimum. Of the remaining spans in the sample, only 526 involved a player averaging a .240+ ISO during the first three seasons. And of those spans, only 34 saw a player drop more than 100 points in the fourth season. The largest decline belongs to Jim Thome, who was injured during the 2005 season with the Phillies. That dropoff can be explained in his case.

Next on the list is Andruw Jones, whose decline likely came to mind when considering other Dunn-like implosions. Jones averaged a .258 ISO from 2005 to 2007–and then followed that up with a .091 in 2008. That’s a whopping 167-point drop.

Most of the players at the top of the list saw their power decline at the end of their careers. Phil Nevin was mostly done after 2002, and the same can be said of Mark McGwire. Jim Edmonds had little left in the tank after the 2007 campaign, and Sammy Sosa had seen his best days by the time the 2005 season ended. If Dunn remains in the regular lineup without improving his numbers, he’ld be set to enter some rarified air.

One of the major reasons for his struggles is a ghastly strikeout rate. Dunn has struck out in 42.3 percent of his at bats — way above his career average of 33%. Since 1950, only two players (in three seasons) have struck out more than 40 percent of the time while amassing 500 or more plate appearances: Mark Reynolds 2010 (42.3), Jack Cust 2007 (41.5) and Jack Cust 2008 (41.0). Dunn’s contemporaries in the ISO category struck out more in the year of their decline, but their strikeout rates weren’t really starting from a rate as high as Dunn’s had been in the past several seasons.

Dunn might not be totally done: Travis Hafner was at the top of the first leaderboard before his recent bounce-back. It’s just disconcerting in situations like this because of how rare the situation is in the first place.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

52 Responses to “Dear Adam Dunn: Stop Stinking”

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  1. Betting Man says:

    If I were a betting man – which, as my name suggests, I am – I’d put the over/under on comments regarding Dunn’s performance in relation to a specific fantasy team at 10.

    I’d also put the over/under on people caring about those fantasy teams at 1. That one being the fake owner of the fake team.

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  2. Omar says:

    I just wanted to see the dude in a HR derby.

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  3. Bill says:

    On a semi-unrelated note, just how much is enough when it comes to UZR? I thought about 3 seasons were enough, and we’re approaching that with Gardner. In 1600 LF innings he is sporting a rather nice UZR/150 of 42.7; add in another 1100 innings in center and his UZR/150 is still a shiny 32.8. Maybe people jumped on his elite defense band wagon before the sample size was large enough to be statistically meaningful, but it looks like they were right to me…

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  4. J.E. says:

    He is hitting .126 and if he strikes out in his next home AB, he will have struck out in half his ABs. It’s a small sample, but maybe he should have taken BP at the Cell before signing a contract. It appears that Dunn had never hit there before this season? Is that right?

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  5. Sox2727 says:

    Here’s how bad things are for Dunn right now. I was at the game yesterday and people actually are cheering him now for fouling pitches off. I think the biggest problem right now is Dunn’s mental state. If you listen to him in interviews, he sounds mentally beaten.

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    • James says:

      DHing and sitting around thinking about it probably compounds the problem.

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    • steex says:

      I’m definitely wondering if Dunn doesn’t have the Pat Burrell “can’t DH” problem. Though his defense is a definite minus, I think the White Sox might do well to consider committing to a few weeks of Dunn at 1B and letting Konerko DH. Paulie doesn’t seem to have much difficult transitioning back-and-forth and it’d be worth it in the long run if they can get Dunn’s bat going.

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      • Yinka Double Dare says:

        They’ve tried playing him there more over the last month, after he did pretty much nothing but DH for the first month and a half. He’s still been terrible, and he’s actually hit WORSE in the games where he has played in the field (small sample size obviously).

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      • Steve from Rockford says:

        Problem is Konerko is much better at 1st, the Sox cannot do that after almost knocking themselves totally out of contention

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  6. Sam says:

    Nitpicky note: I don’t know that you could call Garza a very good pitcher having his talent questioned because of fluky BABIP, because before this year he never pitched this well. He’s having his improvement masked by high BABIP.

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  7. Michael Scotch says:

    Man, Dunn really torpedoed my fantasy team. I spent a 4th round pick on him, passing up on Justin Upton and Brian McCann because I valued his consistency so much. Do you think I should sell low on him now or ride it out?

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    • James says:

      Fire the GM for taking a mediocre DH over an All-Star catcher.

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    • jimbo says:

      we spent a 3rd round pick on him! (12 team league)

      was able to sell low on him for mcgehee and rios (replacing francouer and callaspo). picked up cuddyer for 1B and in 2 weeks have gotten more than 2 months of Dunn.

      every week thta goes by reduces the number of owners who will see big power potential enough to pay for it. might already be too late.

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    • adohaj says:

      I have dunn and uggla and I’m still in 1st place.

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  8. Pat says:

    I thought Garza was just an above average pitcher with a fluky strikeout rate that seemed to regress some.

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  9. everdiso says:

    Seems like ricciardi was right all along, this dude just doesn’t like baseball. now he’s got his retirement contract, he’s punched out.

    dumped him from my fagtasy squad a month ago…best move i’ve made all year.

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    • SC2GG says:

      MLB has a rule that states that Ricciardi isn’t ever right about anything.

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    • ddriver80 says:

      Riccardi wasn’t right. Lots of players struggle with DH’ing. Look at Posada, Adam Lind etc.

      Thinking too much about the next AB between innings is horriblbe for a hitter.

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  10. Bill says:

    Ricciardi is an idiot.

    Dunn was a product of the National League, plain and simple. I’m so amused by NL fans that still get defensive about this. The AL turns Adam Dunn into Adam Lind, but there’s no discrepancy between the leagues.

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    • SC2GG says:

      Lind is highly productive and in the AL, are you suggesting that if he moves to the NL he’ll turn into Pujols 2.0? You should probably have found a worse Adam to make the comparison to, like maybe Adam Kennedy or Adam Vinatieri.

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      • Beaster says:

        He could have used Lind as a comparator but he would’ve had to reference is horrific 2010 line versus LHP to make it remotely relevant

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      • Bill says:

        A career .347 wOBA is highly productive for a player who doesn’t add anything defensively?

        If you really want to know, what I was doing is giving Dunn some credit, I don’t think he’s really THIS bad going forward.

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    • GMH says:

      You’re absolutely right. Adam Dunn’s struggles are simply and wholly a result of the discrepancy in pitching between the AL and NL.

      Let’s face it. We’ve never seen a player go from the AL to the NL and immediately struggle. We’ve never seen a perennial AL powerhouse, like say, Boston, recently have an an leftfielder that posted lines of .274/.380/.534 while in a Red Sox uniform, but then inexplicably forgot how to hit after signing a contract to play in the inferior National League. And we’ve never seen the anti-Adam Dunn: a career National Leaguer who struggled but found almost overnight success after being traded to the AL.

      In the recesses of my mind I recall the “idiot” J.P. Ricciardi trading a bag of baseballs to that National League juggernaut, the Pittsburgh Pirates, in exchange for another outfielder who was essentially a replacement level player. He couldn’t stay in the starting lineup of that extremely deep NL team in spite of numerous opportunities. And then Riccardi brought him to the AL (albeit its worst division, the AL East – which I call the fourth National League division because its pitching is so weak), and this replacement level outfielder almost immediately hit like the reincarnation of Hank Greenberg.

      But then I realize that Ricciardi never could have made such a trade, and no player could ever go from struggling in the NL to stardom in the AL, so I must be imagining it all.

      +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • excatcher says:

        If only P. Angelos, Esq., liked the cut of said replacement level outfielder’s jib.

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      • Bill says:

        Good lord did you waste your time typing this. Both you and I and all the losers that voted this post up all know that the AL is superior. You can make hack sarcastic jokes all you want, I know you know it’s true.

        Like, look beyond the chest-thumping aspect of it, if you have any ability to be objective. I mean, you’re being so fraudulent here that you scared-quoted the idea that Ricciardi was a bad GM, just because you disagree with an entirely separate point I made.

        Weak stuff.

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    • Jason B says:

      Player A: 314/360/569, 396 wOBA, 152 wRC+, 1.9 WAR
      Player B: 173/308/316, 289 wOBA, 75 wRC+, -1.0 WAR


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    • MikeS says:

      BS on that too. He’s been equally awful in interleague play when he gets to face NL pitchers.

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  11. kid says:

    I don’t own him anywhere this year, mostly because his ADP had the league and park change built into it. So even though I don’t have a horse in the race, I’m still pretty puzzled as to how this guy fell off the map so quickly. His peripherals don’t look too far off his career norms.

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  12. Eminor3rd says:

    Not joking, I think there’s something wrong with his eyesight. He’s not just whiffing breaking balls, he’s whiffing fastballs down the middle.

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  13. Atom says:

    Not to quibble, but with a .253/.342/.490 line his last two seasons, I don’t think Jim Edmonds really belongs in the Andruw Jones/Adam Dunn career collapse list. His declines actually seem pretty normal for a guy in his late 30’s, who happened to pick it up again his last year seasons:

    2004 @ age 34: 1.061 OPS
    2005 @ age 35: .918 OPS
    2006 @ age 36: .822 OPS
    2007 @ age 37: .728 OPS
    2008 @ age 38: .822 OPS
    2010 @ age 40: .846 OPS

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  14. SAmmy says:

    Its Richie Sexson all over again.

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    • Jason B says:

      Sexson could at least chalk some of his issues up to recurring back issues. I’m not aware of any physical problems Dunn has. Although they *do* both have those “old player” skills that tend to dive off a cliff at a certain point, as has been stated earlier.

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  15. SAmmy says:

    The only math involved in my explanation of his Dunn’s decline is that a friend of mine, once a ballpark assistant, was required to bring 20 McDonald’s cheeseburgers to the clubhouse when Dunn was in town.

    All those cheeseburgers will slow down your bat speed.

    Thats why the Babe stuck to Hot Dogs.

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    • shthar says:

      He should switch to 10 double cheeseburgers and cut down on the carbs.

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    • pft says:

      Babe washed it down with an extract of sheeps testicles for a teststerone boost. No synthetic teststerone in his day.

      I have heard that one of the side effects with steroid withdrawal is a teststerone deficit due to the body no longer manufactures enough of it’s own teststerone. Makes you really weak, which can hurt your bat speed.

      Not claiming Adam Dunn used, since I have no idea, but I look at some of the FA in recent years who have been busts immediately after signing a big pay day (Dunn, Bay, Crawford(so far), Figgins, etc) and I have to wonder WTF is going on.

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    • SC2GG says:

      The Babe used tiger blood. Adam Dunn was promised tiger blood by his personal trainer, but could only get ocelot blood.

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  16. shthar says:

    At least cust is still getting on base.

    That’s one slow leadoff type tho.

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  17. paul_brklyn says:

    IIRC, his first two weeks were ok, not fantastic, but “slow start” not “indescribable dropoff”.

    Then he had the appendix out.

    For “i cried becuase I had no shoes” moment for anyone else with Dunn in their fantasy team; I also have Brian Roberts. And Oswalt.

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  18. cj says:

    dunn is hitting .019 against left handed hitters. batting average isnt the best statistic, but still

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  19. CircleChange11 says:

    I’m entertained at the idea that Dunn is thinking to much. *grin*

    I do think his confidence is as low as it goes, he’s being challenged in the zone by mediocre lefties … and losing.

    ESPN analyst says he’s struggling because he’s trying to pull everything. Now maybe I don’t know Dunn at all, but Ive never known him to go the other way. Ryan Howard, yes. Adam Dunn, not so much.

    I wouldn’t want to put “Batting Coach, Chicago White Sox, 2011-current” on my resume.

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    • mcbrown says:

      According to hit tracker, last year 13 of Dunn’s homers went to the opposite field (12 clearly, 1 arguably to center). That’s about 1/3 of his total – a pretty fair amount.

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  20. mcbrown says:

    I’m calling it – monster 2nd half coming from Adam Dunn. Guaranteed or your money back.

    In all seriousness, I think most of the lower-level data points to some combination of bad luck and pressing:

    * His astronomical strikeout rate is looking flukey to me. His swinging strike rate this year is 12.6% – high, but less than last year’s 13.8% and not THAT much higher than his career average of 11.6%.

    * His pitch selection has been poor but not lethal. He’s making more contact on pitches out of the zone (60% vs. 44.5% career), but swinging at too many of them (27% vs. 19% career, though I should note it was 29% last year). The higher contact rate on these pitches is probably bad news for a “three outcome” player like Dunn, because it is likely weak contact, but the positive feedback of putting the bat on the ball may encourage him to keep swinging. This is consistent with the idea that he is pressing, and a run of good luck may be all he needs to stop doing it.

    * He HAS had a decent drop in his zone contact rate: 76% this year, down from ~80% career. Then again, it was also ~76% in 2005, his best season by wOBA. So that probably doesn’t explain it.

    The biggest red flag I see is from hit tracker – his average home run distance this year is about 397 feet, and it hasn’t been less than 410 feet in any season in their database. So even when he has hit home runs, he hasn’t been blasting them – his power (by this metric) has gone from “prodigious” to “league average”. But it is a tiny sample size of 7 home runs, and the distance varies from a 366 foot wall scraper to a 442 foot blast. For comparison, last year only 5 of his homers exceeded 442 feet. So despite the poor average distance, there is at least some evidence that he still has the capacity to crush it.

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    • mcbrown says:

      Blech, I take it back. That last red flag turns out to be a big one. Hit tracker, baseballanalytics, and an eyeballing of Dunn’s spray chart vs. prior years all point to an overall decrease in fly ball distance of 10-15 feet. That’ll do it…

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