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Fitting an Average Adam Dunn into the White Sox Lineup

It’s not as bad as it was a month ago. Then the White Sox were 10-19 and were scoring just 3.9 runs per game, which put them near the bottom of the league in most respects. Since then they’ve gone 15-12 and have scored 4.22 runs per game. That mark is second in the division only to Detroit, and has the Sox inching back into contention. As you can imagine, the Sox have seen many improvements on offense, going from a .295 wOBA in April to a .329 wOBA in May. That includes an improvement from Adam Dunn, who in creased his wOBA from .271 to .299 in the month of May. But he’s still well below expectations. Considering his spot in the Sox lineup, he really is holding them back.

Dunn’s problems are easily diagnosed from a quick look at his stat sheet. His power is down, he’s dunking in fewer hits than normal (even for him), and he’s striking out far more than he has previously in his career. Things have gotten better in some respects, as his monthly splits indicate. During our What’s Wrong With series, Jesse Wolfersberger examined Dunn’s case and found little to be alarmed about. His history, combined with the lingering effects of an emergency appendectomy in early April, pointed to a recovery rather than a season in decline.

Yet in May he continued to disappoint. He produced a .187 ISO, an improvement over his mostly powerless April, but still not near his .267 career standard. He did experience the BABIP jump that Jesse predicted, to .288, which is close to his .295 career average. Yet his average jumped to only .198 in May, which is well below even his career average. Overall in May he hit just .198/.336/.385, with few signs of turning it around. In fact, after a 2 for 23 skid from May 20 to the 27th, Ozzie Guillen finally dropped Dunn from fifth in the batting order.

At the beginning of this month I was with Jesse in thinking that Dunn would completely rebound and start producing to his career norms. Even after an up-and-down May I expect a full recovery, at least in his rest-of-season numbers. While that will help the Sox dig out of their current hole, it can’t make up for the damage done. We can only wonder at what position the Sox would have been in, at this point, if they got the normal Adam Dunn.

The biggest factor, of course, is the lack of home run power. After hitting exactly 40 homers from 2005 through 2008, Dunn slipped to 38 homers in each of the last two seasons. We can easily chalk that up to Nationals Ballpark, which has a LHB HR Park Factor of 94 (via StatCorner). In Cincinnati the same Park Factor was 120, and in Chicago it’s 123. That is, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect another 40-homer season from Dunn. During his 40-homer years he hit one roughly once every 18 at-bats. Since his walk rate now is exactly his career walk rate, we can take his 166 at-bats and make a rough estimate of nine homers, or four more than he’s hit to this point. That’s also five more hits, which would bring his average up to .205. Since he’s about at his career doubles rate currently, let’s make up the difference in singles. That would give him seven more singles, leaving us with a line of .247/.374/.464.

Plugging his numbers into the Base Runs formula, we can see that he’s currently at 24.56 BR. Adding in those extra four homers and seven singles, that number goes up to 34.7, giving us a difference of about 10 runs. That’s convenient, because of our 10 runs equals one win axiom. If we take it one step further and plug those 10 runs into the White Sox pythagorean record, we get a .485 win percentage, or a record of 27-29 through 56 games. That’s a two-win improvement over their current standing, and, expectedly, a one-win improvement over their current pythagorean record.

The early season has been frustrating for the White Sox and Dunn. They knew what they were getting when they signed him. If you take any three-year period from Dunn’s breakout in 2004 through 2010 and you’ll see him in the top five for walk rate, strikeout rate, and home run totals. Yet this year he hasn’t lived up to expectations, and it has cost his team about a win, maybe two, in the standings. I still expect a great improvement as the season rolls on, and further expect him to help the Sox out of their hole and to a respectable finish. But the Sox will always have to look back to that slow start, for both him and the team, and wonder what if. That win can make a big difference by season’s end.