What’s Wrong With Adam Dunn?

Adam Dunn is one of the most durable, consistent power hitters in baseball. When Chicago inked the 31-year-old to a four year, $56 million deal last offseason, there was no reason to suspect anything less than the .250/.380/.520 that he puts up seemingly every season. However, through the first month of the season, Dunn is hitting .171/.308/.316. Is The Big Donkey going to rebound, or should the White Sox be concerned about their DH?

It often gets mentioned when discussing Dunn, but his consistency over the last several seasons has been so absolutely amazing that it’s worth rehashing one more time. His home run totals starting in 2005 are: 46, 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38. His RBI totals over the same time frame: 102, 101, 92, 106, 100, 105, 103.

In fact, all of Dunn’s yearly graphs are ridiculously stable. Compare those graphs to some of his contemporaries: Jim Thome, Pat Burrell, and current teammate Paul Konerko. Even when compared to those consistent sluggers, Dunn’s graphs look like they were drawn with a straight-edge.

There are three reasons why Dunn is struggling so far: a) he has been a victim of the luck dragon; b) he has not found his power stroke; c) his strikeouts are up.

For the luck, Dunn’s BABIP is only .238 so far in 2011. While he has had two seasons under .260 in his career, there is no reason why his BABIP should not creep closer to his .295 career average as the season progresses.

As for Dunn’s power outage, his ISO is only .145 to start the season, more than 100 points off his career average. Dunn has never posted a season ISO under .200 in his career (side note: Juan Pierre has never had one over .100). For a guy with legendary consistency, it is highly unlikely that he will keep up a pace which is 25-percent lower than his worst season.

Dunn’s home run per fly ball rate looks unlucky as well. His HR/FB rate this year is 12.5-percent, almost half his career average of 22.1-percent. If he signed with San Diego this might be an area of concern, but the White Sox play in one of the most homer-friendly parks in the league. It is only a matter of time until Dunn’s HR/FB rebounds.

Dunn’s low BABIP may be contributing to the power outage as well. His BABIPs are lower on all three batted ball types (grounders, liners, and flies) than they were last year. The grounders probably would not help his power numbers much, but some more balls falling for hits on his line drives and fly balls would certainly contribute to his ISO.  Dunn’s BABIP on liners this year is .750 and .095 on flies. In 2010, those numbers were .815 and .200, respectively.

Dunn has always been a high strikeout player, but Dunn’s 40.1-percent strikeout rate this year would be a career high. Digging into his plate discipline numbers suggest that his strikeout struggles may be due to the improved pitching of the American League. Dunn is swinging at 61.8-percent of balls inside the strike zone, and of those swings, he is making contact 73.2-percent of the time. Both of those numbers are career lows. Unlike BABIP, swing and contact numbers are completely controlled by the player. Right now, Dunn is just not seeing the ball well. He is not swinging at balls in the strike zone, and even when he does he is not making good contact.

A pessimist would say that the swing numbers are proof that Dunn is aging and/or the tougher American League is chewing him up. While this may be true to some degree, the more likely answer is that Dunn is adjusting to the new league, and his plate discipline numbers will rebound to more familiar levels by the end of the year. The move to tougher league might mean that Dunn has his worst strikeout season ever, but even if that happens, it will probably be at around 37-percent, not 40-plus.

Not everything about Dunn’s 2011 campaign is down. He is walking more than he did last year, 15.4-percent to 11.9-percent. Also, he is hitting a ton of fly balls; 53.3-percent, a career high. Those factors will play very will in U.S. Cellular Field if his strikeout and power numbers rebound as predicted.

In his career, the Big Donkey has been more like the Big Work Horse. His hitting profile is well established, and it is very unlikely that his contact and power disappeared overnight. With a little adjustment and some better luck, Dunn will finish near the 40 home runs and 100 RBIs that everyone penciled in for him this season.




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Jesse has been writing for FanGraphs since 2010. He is the director of Consumer Insights at GroupM Next, the innovation unit of GroupM, the world’s largest global media investment management operation. Follow him on Twitter @jesseberger.


58 Responses to “What’s Wrong With Adam Dunn?”

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  1. JK says:

    Also missing a week to have his appendix removed and being put right back into the lineup probably didn’t do wonders for his timing.

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    • batpig says:

      honestly, how could you write an article about “what’s wrong with Dunn” at this point and NOT make a single mention of his emergency appendectomy? And he’s also admitted since that he came back too early and wasn’t fully recovered.

      lazy journalism.

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      • batpig says:

        also, it would be nice to see an analysis article like this that wasn’t just something I could have read myself by looking at his player page.

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    • JoeyO says:

      couldnt agree more.

      Dunn has even admitted he probably came back at least 5 games early, and that had to have affected his numbers a ton – a season which is still young anyway. To ignore the injury in the article is irresponsible imo – it could be the absolute sole reason his numbers are low to this point…

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  2. Josh says:

    Could be dude is actually NOT Wolverine and needed some time to get back on track after the appendectomy. Matt Holliday on the other hand might have x-men powers.

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  3. Yirmiyahu says:

    FYI, when you’re discussing these guys with early season struggles who have batting averages below the Mendoza line, using IsoP can be really misleading. In Dunn’s case, compare his 2011 and career IsoP: .139 vs .269 (huge difference). But if you look at it in terms of bases-per-hit (TB/H): 1.20 vs 1.32 (not so significant).

    IsoP basically punishes guys with very low batting averages.

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  4. hunterfan says:

    “the improved pitching of the American League”

    Those stellar pitchers of the Minnesota Twins? The award winning Indians staff? The fearsome Royals 5?

    Too bad he got out of the NL East. I mean, it’s not like there’s good pitching in that league.

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    • RobBob says:

      Just keep repeating it to yourself: if it’s in the AL, it’s better.

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    • Otter says:

      The White Sox haven’t played the Twins (yet), only two against the Royals and three with the Tribe (Dunn missed one of the Royals games). The Sox have played a lot of games against the Angels, A’s, Yankees and Rays however.

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      • Jim says:

        “The White Sox haven’t played the Twins (yet), only two against the Royals and three with the Tribe (Dunn missed one of the Royals games). The Sox have played a lot of games against the Angels, A’s, Yankees and Rays however.”

        Pft, get out of here with your facts. I root for an NL team and can’t accept that that AL is undeniably superior. It’s just a coincidence that Adam Dunn is going to turn into Adam Lind after switching leagues.

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      • hunterfan says:

        Otter: You just did more analysis on the quality of pitching Dunn has faced than the article did.

        FWIW, I have no idea whether the quality of pitching Dunn has faced as a member of the White Sox is appreciably better or worse than what he would have faced as a Natinal, but I do think SOME level of analysis is called for if you want to go down that road, not just a blanket (over)generalization.

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        http://www.rbimagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/dunnsp.jpg
        “White Sox is appreciably better or worse than what he would have faced as a Natinal”
        It was only one game where that occurred.

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  5. jimiu says:

    I think his Swing% are pretty similar to last season. He has been swinging more out of the zone and missing more. If he continues to ‘under achieve’ everyone will blame his downfall on AL pitching and not the fact that he isn’t as good as he was in the past and his skill set is one that fades quickly.

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    • RobBob says:

      Not that quickly.

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      • NBarnes says:

        Uh, it seems to me that Dunn is absolutely as capable of falling off a cliff into a black hole as any other high K, high walk slugger. That he hasn’t done it yet may mean that he’s aging better than most of his phenotype, and there is the possibility that he’s a real outlier and his aging won’t look anything like the players he otherwise resembles. But played like Dunn fall apart for no readily apparent reason all the freaking time. There’s a reason people keep predicting or speculating about it with respect to Dunn. Someday, they will probably be right.

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    • JoeyO says:

      We’ve been hearing this “skill set fades quickly” line regarding Dunn for like 5 years now; generally followed with a “this year will spell doom” like comment. He was supposed to be “for sure” done by the time he was 28; how’ed that work out?

      When can we just admit we have probably never seen a hitter like him in the history of the game who has been so consistent with his ability, and acknowledge that it pretty much throws out all preconceived theories on his aging…

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        i would hesitate to say that we have never seen a player like Adam Dunn before. I would also not say that we can throw out all preconceived theories on aging because, well, people age and get slower and weaker and less athletic. the same will hold true for Adam Dunn as it will for anyone else. i’m not saying that he is old and washed up, but that we can’t just say “oh he is still good, so he must not age like human beings.”

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  6. Dandy Salderson says:

    “There are three reasons why Dunn is struggling so far: a) he has been a victim of the luck dragon; b) he has not found his power stroke; c) his strikeouts are up.”

    This is the exact same thing as the Carlos Pena article, yet a very different conclusion.

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  7. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Haven’t I read that being a DH makes it harder for players to hit? You can’t hit major league pitching unless your “up”. Dhing makes it harder for a player to get going, so a part of Dunn’s fall probably comes from having to adjust to DHing everyday.

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  8. Caleb W says:

    A low HR/FB breeds a reduced BABIP on fly balls because HR don’t count as balls in play. This is important; it’s not that he needs his fly balls to fall for hits, but rather that he needs to hit them farther so they clear the fence. He just isn’t hitting the ball as hard yet this year. I bet if his HR/FB numbers return to regular career levels, he won’t have the BABIP problems you are talking about.

    Also, isn’t .750 BABIP on liners close to league average? That may well be mere regression after last year’s higher mark. I’m not sure on that one tho.

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  9. Slats says:

    Too fat LOL.

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  10. RobBob says:

    Dunn has been a very streaky player throughout his career. This year he has experienced a two-week drought (following his appendectomy, it has been noted) where he hit nothing for power. That sort of thing has happened to him in the past: for example, from Aug 12 – Aug 27 last year he had a string of 59 PAs with only 6 hits, 3 doubles, and 9 walks for a 15-game slash line 0f .125/.271/.188.
    He came through it just fine though. Ask again in late May, if he’s still not hitting.

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  11. Jim says:

    “The White Sox haven’t played the Twins (yet), only two against the Royals and three with the Tribe (Dunn missed one of the Royals games). The Sox have played a lot of games against the Angels, A’s, Yankees and Rays however.”

    Pft, get out of here with your facts. I root for an NL team and can’t accept that that AL is undeniably superior. It’s just a coincidence that Adam Dunn is going to turn into Adam Lind after switching leagues…

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  12. reillocity says:

    Seems like these “What’s Wrong With …” columns are getting a bit overplayed here. Can’t we at least get a few “What’s Right With …” columns on players who are overachieving dramatically versus historical standards?

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  13. Lewie Pollis says:

    For what it’s worth, Dunn has an .846 Power Factor. Still the lowest he’s had since 2002, but looking at last year’s numbers it would rank just under the 90th percentile.

    http://www.wahooblues.com/2011/03/15/a-better-way-to-measure-power.html/

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  14. Iceman11 says:

    Take it from someone living in the Midwest. It is tough to hit a Baseball when it’s 40 degrees, and we have not had spring in this part of the country yet. Reason two for Dunn is coming back far too quickly after that appendix attack.

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    • MikeS says:

      Little known fact – it warms up 20 degrees when Quentin or Konerko come to the plate.

      Sorry, I just hate it when players blame the weather for their woes. The appendix, fine.

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      • SKob says:

        The ball goes farther in warm weather. It’s not an excuse it’s a fact that could have appreciable value based on the fact his flayball rate is similar to previous years without resulting in home runs. You can hate it all you want, but you’re wrong! Add in the other factors discussed here and comparing him to Konerko and Quentin (who are used to spring in Chicago) seems ridiculous.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Everything travels slower in more dense materials.

        How many feet does the cold air shorten the fly balls?

        Also … is the AL pitcher talent still a factor?

        Didn;t some of the best AL pitchers move to the NL?

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  15. chuckd says:

    Cold weather…appendix issues…new team…new league…new role as DH…suffering attacks by the luck dragon…

    …can’t we allow him to mulligan 100 PA?

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  16. MikeS says:

    Whatever it is doesn’t seem to be getting better. He has made 3 outs in 2 AB already tonight.

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  17. Candlestick Parker says:

    I’m still not seeing how the pitching of the A’s, Angels, Yankees and Rays is superior to that of the Phillies, Marlins and Braves.

    If the AL is still the better league, it’s still because the AL East is clearly the best division in MLB, while the NL Central is just as clearly the worst. But the other 4 divisions are about equal, and I’d argue that top to bottom the NL West and East are superior to the AL West and Central.

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    • NEPP says:

      Halladay and Lee both had to sacrifice some of their ability when they changed leagues.

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    • adohaj says:

      could it be that on average the 3/4/5 starters in the AL are better? I mean 3/4/5 starters do pitch 60% of the games played

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      • TK says:

        I think some people would like to see things like this explained, not stated. I think the pitching Dunn is facing may very well be superior to what he saw last year, but I sincerely doubt it has more than a slight effect. I think SSS and the appendectimy are the two largest culprits here.

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    • Steve from Rockford says:

      The argument is that overall, the pitching in AL is better than that of the NL. The Phillies have a great rotation, but that does not mean the entire league does.

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  18. So after the Liriano article today and what just happened about an hour ago, I fully expect Adam Dunn to hit 4 home runs tomorrow.

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  19. MintyRoadkill says:

    “For the luck, Dunn’s BABIP is only .238 so far in 2011. While he has had two seasons under .260 in his career, there is no reason why his BABIP should not creep closer to his .295 career average as the season progresses.”

    Why does no one on fangraphs use xBABIP? It’s a great stat and it renders BABIP usable.

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  20. Sox27 says:

    I’ve talked to Brooks Boyer about changing the 2011 White Sox marketing slogan from “ALL IN” to “WE FOLD”

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  21. I hope it’s as simple as getting adjusted to the AL. The Sox gave him a king’s ransom to DH (just like Victor and the Tigres) and they’re both on my fantasy team…

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  22. Salo says:

    Help me out:

    I do not understand why you always attribute low BABIPs to luck, is there somewhere i can read why is that.

    You wrote that Dunn has not found his power stroke yet, so aren´t well hit ground balls more likely to go for hits the same way as well hit line drives are more likely to go over the fence? I think that it would be interesting to correlate power numbers with babip

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  23. Todd says:

    I’m confused – why go through the process of looking at his numbers and underlying skills this season (which have all been terrible) if you’re just going to come to the conclusion: “With a little adjustment and some better luck, Dunn will finish near the 40 home runs and 100 RBIs that everyone penciled in for him this season”?

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  24. everdiso says:

    Apparently, J.P. Ricciardi was right.

    Adam Dunn clearly just doesn’t like baseball.

    With his retirement contract now signed, it’s life in the fat lane for Adam here on out.

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  25. Mike says:

    Can we see one called “What’s Wrong with the White Sox?” Thirteen hitters playing this poorly for this long is NOT normal.

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    • rrk says:

      That would be an interesting examination. I heard an old-time major-leaguer say, in essence, that he has never seen a team with these career numbers look this bad for this long. Wonder if that’s objectively true?

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  26. benjie says:

    so many commentors are mad at the author. they should be mad at adam dunn for being a piece of sh-t.

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  27. JD says:

    Want to rehash this after another month? Still think that he will snap out of it?

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