Why Would the Nationals Extend Dunn?

Adam Dunn belongs in the American League. In fact, he should have played there his entire career. Yet every single one of his 5,417 plate appearances and 10,589.2 defensive innings have come in the National League. After spending the first seven and a half years of his major league career with the Reds, he went to the Diamondbacks in August 2008. Finally free to hit free agency after the season and catch on with a team that would keep him out of the field, he instead signed with the Nationals for two years and $20 million in January 2009. It had everyone from saberists to casual fans asking why.

When Adam Dunn hits baseballs, they travel a long way. Over the past three seasons he has the sixth highest ISO in the majors. His home runs during that time, 118, have averaged 409 feet. His slugging percentage, .532, is more than twice his batting average, .256, so each of his hits was worth more than a double. Most teams, I’m sure, would love to have that kind of power in their lineup. In the NL, though, it comes at the expense of his fielding.

The defensive aspect of Dunn’s game makes the Nationals’ stated desire to extend Dunn’s contract a mystery. His park adjusted wRAA last season, 35.5, ranked highest on the team, besting Ryan Zimmerman by 8.1 runs. The next closest player after that, Nick Johnson at 11.9 (just with the Nats), got traded mid-season. The only other National with a positive wRAA was Nyjer Morgan with 8.8. In other words, the team certainly appreciates his bat. Unfortunately, he cannot add his value to the lineup without playing the field.

Countless pixels have been used to describe Dunn’s defense. No adjective can describe it adequately. In fact, if you want to employ hyperbole in describing an inadequate defender, you can say he plays dunndefense (pronounced DUNN-duh-fense). Over the past three seasons only Brad Hawpe sports a worse outfield UZR, -82.1 to Dunn’s -66.9. Those two, along with Jermaine Dye, represent another world of horrible outfield defense. There’s nearly a 20-run difference between Dye and the fourth-worst outfielder.

In an attempt to limit Dunn’s exposure on defense they’ve moved him to first base. He’ll cause the least damage there, but he still handles the position poorly. He has played only 668 innings at first base over the past three years, yet still has the fourth worst UZR at the position, -16.2, and the worst UZR/150. It seems that no matter the position Dunn costs his team runs. Why, then, would a National League team want to sign him?

Two possible answers come to mind. The first doubles back to Dunn’s offensive prowess. A team like the Nats, with only three players who sported a positive wRAA last season, can’t afford to lose a hitter like Dunn, defense be damned. But if he’s costing the team runs on defense, can’t that offset his offensive numbers to an extent? While he does have the fourth most wRAA among outfielders over the past three years, his WAR ranks 37th. It appears, then, that yes, defense can offset offense, making the argument for keeping Dunn’s bat in the lineup a bit weaker.

The other answer involves a trade. GM Mike Rizzo has been charged with building a contender, and while Dunn might not fit into a potential NL East winning team perhaps he can help acquire someone who does. This contender does not figure to come this year, meaning Dunn could walk afterward. But if the Nats sign him to a two-year extension, perhaps they can trade him during or after the 2011 season to an AL team in exchange for a missing piece to their contention puzzle. It seems a longshot, and it probably doesn’t befit a team to sign someone with the intent of trading him for something useful. Given the situation, however, I wouldn’t rule it out.

We know what Adam Dunn adds to a team, but we also know what he takes away. Why, then, would a National League team, exposed to both, sign him? This isn’t the first time someone has asked this question, but with Rizzo actively discussing with the media his eagerness to extend Dunn it might be the most emphatic. The team either thinks his defensive detriment is overstated, or thinks it can turn him around in a year or two for more suitable pieces. I’m not sure either reason is enough justification to extend Dunn’s contract beyond the 2010 season.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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PL
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PL
6 years 5 months ago

Because the nats are run by a GM who has no idea what he’s doing. The trade part is literally the only reason why they would keep him, in order to flip him to an AL team for prospects. You would think Dunn would get a little more selfless and recognize his faults and come out and say he wants to DH. Isnt he getting older too, isnt it just time for him to hit full time? Rizzo just looks at last years offensive numbers and forgets about defense, when the Nats would have won 3 more games last year with Ryan Sweeney replacing Dunn in the lineup (Sweeney WAR = 4.2, Dunn’s = 1.3)

Big Oil
Member
Big Oil
6 years 5 months ago

“Rizzo just looks at last years offensive numbers and forgets about defense”

Finally! Someone willing to back me up on the fact that Nyjer Morgan isn’t that great.

Melkmizzle
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Melkmizzle
6 years 5 months ago

“….the Nats would have won 3 more games last year with Ryan Sweeney replacing Dunn in the lineup (Sweeney WAR = 4.2, Dunn’s = 1.3)”

Yeah i know its sorta the “thing” to be able to measure everything in numbers on this site, but perhaps Dunn’s presence MAY have contributed to Ryan Zimmerman’s breakout season? Would Zimmerman have broken out with Elijah Dukes, Ryan Sweeney, Jesus Flores, etc… batting behind him? Not likely.

We are thinking outside the box using UZR as not the whole baseball world has caught on yet, but maybe with Dunn and the Nats its time to think INSIDE the box.

jcj5y
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jcj5y
6 years 5 months ago

Everybody knows that Dunn is a terrible outfield defender. But I think you are over-emphasizing UZR given the small sample size. 688 innings is less than half a season worth of games at first, and until the end of last year, Dunn only played there sporadically. I expect a lot of good defensive outfielders would have similar struggles if they were suddenly asked to play first. But is it really that hard to imagine that, given some time, a former University of Texas quarterback can learn to play first as well as, say, Prince Fielder? In my view, that’s what the Nationals are predicting as they work on an extension for Dunn.

DavidCEisen
Member
DavidCEisen
6 years 5 months ago

Dunn has played 1400 innings at first with a career UZR/150 of -18. Still a small sample size, but being 18 runs worse than the average first baseman is pretty impressive. Looking at first baseman that played a minimum of 500 innings in, he was twice as bad in UZR as the next worse!

snapper
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snapper
6 years 5 months ago

I think the simplest explanation is they think Dunn can improve at 1B.

If he can become merely bad say -5Rs, his value improves a lot.

OremLK
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OremLK
6 years 5 months ago

No, that’s the second-simplest explanation.

The simplest, and thus most likely explanation is that the Nationals front office is filled with idiots.

Eric R
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Eric R
6 years 5 months ago

Rather than extending him with the potential of trading, wouldn’t offering him arbitration be better? then they either still get him [for just one year] or get a couple good picks…

Alex
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Alex
6 years 5 months ago

Is it possible that the Nationals are trying to sign Dunn to an extension NOW, based upon his future projected value in the National League, with the intention of then trading him to an American League team and getting more value in return?

I’ll explain.

Dunn is clearly worth far less to a National League team than an American League team, due to his defensive liabilities. Thus, he might produce 2.0 WAR per season (or whatever) for an NL team, yet 4.0 WAR per season (or whatever) for an AL team.

The Nationals could potentially use this to their advantage in negotiations for a contract extension by paying him, based upon the market value for wins, $8m per season (or whatever, for 2.0 WAR), rather than $16m per season (or whatever, for 4.0 WAR).

With this, the Nationals might then approach an AL team with somewhat of a bargain on the table. Now, you have a player who could potentially be worth 4.0 WAR per season, yet only be under contract for $8m per season.

Would this not be among the top contracts in all of baseball? Could the Nationals not then use this to receive much more value in return, should they decide to trade Dunn to an AL team?

Or am I over-thinking this and giving the Nationals credit for far more strategic thought than they have earned?

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 5 months ago

Eh, the problem with that is it assumes that A) Dunn is willing to accept defense being priced into his contract, and B) that he’s unaware of AL teams that wouldn’t care about his defense. Alternatively, AL teams still might not be interested in that contract because of the glut of DH-types on the market in recent years. Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon had a hard time getting the open-market value of their projected WAR – why would Adam Dunn be any different?

Alex
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Alex
6 years 5 months ago

I don’t disagree with you, there absolutely problems with this strategy. Foremost among them that it relies upon certain assumptions about the free-agent market, other AL teams’ current and future projections for their DH positions, and Dunn’s (or, more importantly, his agent’s) awareness of both factors and ability to translate them into a deal in Dunn’s best interest.

Keep in mind that, all else being equal, a move to the AL would probably make the most baseball sense for Dunn. Over the last few years, his offensive performance compares very well to that of the AL top DH’s (albeit he has put up those numbers in the weaker NL), so I have to believe that there are quite a number of teams that could use an upgrade there. Perhaps not all of them are in a position to pay as much as Dunn might want for such an upgrade, which reflects a point that you had also made.

Essentially though, at its core, all that is less relevant than the following: for Dunn to sign an extension he must believe that he can earn no more in the open market than what the Nationals offer, and the Nationals must believe that they can extract no more overall production for that money that Dunn would provide. There are other factors at play, of course (a guaranteed contract vs an uncertain market, any 1B prospects that the Nationals want to see perform).

Additionally, there is the marginal win argument and the Nationals’ expected position on the win curve. The Nationals may just decide that the increase in production over replacement value may not be worth the increase cost of that production, even at market value rates, for a team that isn’t expected to contend anyway.

Will
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Will
6 years 5 months ago

That would be pretty smart. The Nationals aren’t smart. So I think you’re over-thinking this.

Mike Rizzo seems to genuinely like Dunn as both a player and a person, and he seems to value character way too highly (see: Elijah Dukes).

However, I think you’re onto something that Dunn would accept less money to play with the Nationals, but for different reasons. He’s said on numerous occasions he does not want to DH, so I think he’d really need to be blown away with an offer from an AL team. That or a guarantee of playing first (which would defeat the purpose of going to the AL).

Jeremy
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Jeremy
6 years 5 months ago

I think the Marquis and Pudge signings and the talk about extending Dunn show that Rizzo badly wants established players on the Nats and is willing to overpay for them if necessary. At least Dunn is actually tradeable. If he’s on track for another clockwork 38-40 HR season why wouldn’t a team that needs a DH upgrade (White Sox?) be interested?

NEPP
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NEPP
6 years 5 months ago

Trade him to who specifically? Most AL teams already have an established DH and have no interest in a guy that can’t play the field effectively. Look how hard its been for a guy like Jermaine Dye to latch on with a team…hell Thome signed as basically a pinch-hitter with the Twins. I admit that Dunn is still a better slugger than either of them but its still a huge limitation for even an AL team to take on for anything other than a short-term rental during a playoff push.

NEPP
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NEPP
6 years 5 months ago

On building a contender: They’d be better served pocketing the money they’d spend on extending him and using it on the Int’l market and to bust slot during the next two June drafts (where they’ll likely again have high picks and be able to get top talent). That would payoff far more than the prospects they’d get in return for trading him in 2011.

Ken
Member
Ken
6 years 5 months ago

I generally agree with the post and comments. From a statistacal analysis it makes no sense to keep Dunn. However I think this is a situation where the business realities trump building a contender. There is very little reason to buy a ticket to see the Nats right now. Ryan Zimmerman and, well, ummmm. Dunn is one of the few guys worth the price of admission because for better or worse everyone likes seeing a ball launched 500 feet and there are very few guys who can do that. Dunn is one of them. And as you say above, while he is not an ideal fit and is better suited to DH, technically he’s not hurting his team (37th in WAR not awful). I don’t think you can dismiss these realities when assessing signings.

Bob
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Bob
6 years 5 months ago

Very well said. It’s not like Dunn’s presence is blocking any ML-ready youngsters on the Nats, and they don’t seem to be strapped for cash like the current Marlins or Rays of 2001 – 2006. I think the possible effect of Dunn chasing 50 homers would mean more to that franchise in building interest and a fanbase than the few marginal WAR they could get out of a Nick Johnson-type who can field 1B better. Building a true winner would be ideal, but that takes time, and in the meantime maybe Dunn helps them sell a few more tickets and jerseys.

haverjus
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haverjus
6 years 5 months ago

I enjoyed the article, as I do with almost everything I read at this site, but I’m wondering if Dunn’s effect on the line-up, not just his stats, should be factored into his value. Is Ryan Zimmerman as productive as he is without Dunn hitting behind him? Surely pitchers fear Dunn more than they do Willingham, or any other Nat, which forces pitchers to throw to Zim. Dunn protects the lineup a bit, doesn’t he?

joser
Guest
joser
6 years 5 months ago

“Protection” is not all it is cracked up to be, as Tango has shown

The entire point of protecting a batter is to improve his offensive output (wOBA) by forcing the opposing pitcher to pitch to him. And indeed, we saw above that opposing pitchers pitch to protected hitters, something that is evidenced by the fewer walks. However, when the ball is put into play, we see no significant difference between how the two sets of hitters perform. The unprotected hitters have a wOBA of .395 (counting only balls that are hit), compared with .391 for protected hitters

In short, protecting a star hitter appears to accomplish very little. He indeed gets fewer walks; however, there is no evidence that he gets more hittable pitches, since the pitcher always avoids pitching to a good hitter when the situation would call for an intentional walk.

jcj5y
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jcj5y
6 years 5 months ago

I still disagree with the basic premise of the post, i.e., that Dunn will undoubtedly be a terrible defender at first base over the course of any contract extension he signs. There’s just not enough evidence to draw that conclusion so firmly. Look at Prince Fielder’s UZR/150 since 2006–it has improved significantly with experience. Dunn is not so old (he’s 30) that a physical decline is inevitable in the next 3-4 years. He’s switching to first at about the same age as Lance Berkman, who has been respectable there. The Nats are not being unreasonable to project Dunn as a below-average, but not terrible, first baseman; if they’re right, they may get him at below-market price.

JCA
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JCA
6 years 5 months ago

Anecdotally, it was a pretty wide-spread belief in Washington that Dunn’s defense at first improved once he became a full-timer. The FJB blog noted that most of his negative UZR was racked up before August. The UZR/150 came down the more he plated. This site is not set up to verify the observation, so I do not know how to verify it. If Dunn is as bad as -15 runs (where , then he is still a 2 – 3 win player (-12.5 for position and +20 for replacement value). That’s worth $7.5 – $11 based on this year’s signings. Even on this site, both CHONE and the Fans have him as a 3 WAR projection. Yes, he might be more valuable in the AL, but that does not mean the Nats should not look at him for an extension.

JCA
Guest
JCA
6 years 5 months ago

UGH! typos!
“The UZR/150 came down the more he played. This site is not set up to verify the observation, so I do not know how to verify it. If Dunn is as bad as -15 runs, then he is still a 2 – 3 win player (-12.5 for position and +20 for replacement value). “

JoeR43
Member
JoeR43
6 years 5 months ago

It is kind of incredible that as a no-field DH, he’s worth about 67.4 RAR in 08-09. With defense, it’s 25.5 RAR. Playing in the NL has docked Dunn over 4 marginal wins in 2 years.

He’s well worth 8 figures per year in the AL, in the NL, about half that.

PhD Brian
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PhD Brian
6 years 5 months ago

Yea you’d think he would move, yet he does not desire it.

PhD Brian
Guest
PhD Brian
6 years 5 months ago

I am a Nats fan and have argued on Federal Baseball and other Nats sites against the extention, But Dunn is absolutely loved by most Nats Fans for some reason, so for that alone he will be resigned. On the other hand, if they pay him like a 2 WAR player then its ok.

Personally, I think Dunn thinks he is HOF worthy and feels he wont get in if he DHs (he has hinted at this in the past). His point is strong at least until Edgar Martiez finally gets in.

On the flipside, as defensive stats become more widely accepted over the next 10 years, I think Dunn might better his chances by not playing in the field. Defensive stats will matter 10 years from now on how we evaluate players in the common lexicon and it is unlikly Dunn’s numbers will help his case.

Sunderland
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Sunderland
6 years 5 months ago

SO what is more likely?
Dunn will continue to field at first base as poorly as he did last year, and as ineffectively as he has played the outfield over the past years?
Or the Dunn will show improvement as a first baseman.

Clearly he is going to get better. Good enough of an athlete to be an all-state QB. Good enough of an athlete to play a reasonable first base.

Plus, he’s great from a marketing / ticket sales / fan interest standpoint, and we all know the Nat’s need that.
He’s widely admired and respected in the clubhouse.

They don’t have anything down on the farm that could come close to serving as an MLB 1B.

So why the bashing of the Nats for wanting to re-sign him?

If Dunn turns out to be a reasonably good first baseman, doesn’t re-signing him look smart?
And is that so far fetched, that Dunn could actually become a reasonably good 1B?

sullyzz
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sullyzz
6 years 5 months ago

Stat-Geeks should leave Scouting to MLB professionals. Dunn has never had the opportunity to play full-time 1B, beginning with Spring Training. Gamble now with an extension, and there is still the option of a later trade to an AL team regardless of how well he plays 1B. If the Nats do not sign him to an extension, and he actually plays decently at 1B this season, his value will sky-rocket and the Nats will surely lose him. I guess it is difficult to see the forest when all you look at are the trees. Watching Dunn at 1B last season, in person at Nats Park, was pleasantly surprising. He “saved” MANY errant throws by Zimmy and Co.

tarheelcoach
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tarheelcoach
6 years 5 months ago

I’m not convinced that Dunn has much value, even in the AL. Value is tied to what a skill set is worth on the open market. Teams have proven over the last few years that power hitting DH types are not worth much money at all. They are a dime a dozen. Name a player who signed a big contract to DH this year – I can’t think of anyone. So not only would teams not be interested in signing Dunn for the money the Nats are paying, they certainly wouldn’t also give up value in a trade for him.

As his ‘improvement’ defensively, he played seven years in the majors in the OF and got WORSE, why would he suddenly regain his athleticism to the point where he could show significant improvement at 1B?

jirish
Guest
jirish
6 years 5 months ago

Because chicks dig the long ball

drunkin
Guest
drunkin
6 years 3 months ago

What firstbaseman made the hall of fame based on defense?

west1805
Guest
west1805
6 years 3 months ago

To all those of you who think Dunn’s fielding is just horrible, please note that there are five NL regular first basemen who have lower fielding percentages at this point than Dunn. One of them is Ryan Howard. Antyone want to be idiotic enough to ask the Phillies why they keep Howard around when he’s last in fielding percentage among NL first basemen? They keep him because he contributes big-time in other ways, as does Dunn with his homers, high on base percentage, and his presence hitting behind Ryan Zimmerman. Not coincidentally, RZimm won the NL 3B Silver Slugger award last year for the first time – in his first year hitting ahead of Dunn. He has 8 HRs and a .326 average this year hitting in front of Dunn. And as for Dunn’s fielding, what he doesn’t have in range, he does have in being a huge target for other Nats infielders to throw to, and he does have in his uncanny ability to dig balls out of the dirt. Not coincidentally, RZimm also won his first gold glove last year – throwing to Adam Dunn. So get out of your ivory tower statistics, guys, and come on down to DC. Like Sullyzz above was, be prepared to be pleasantly surprised when you see that Dunn helps the Nats defensively more than he hurts them.

west1805
Guest
west1805
6 years 3 months ago

And while you’re in DC, guys, be the first on your block to notice that the Nats now have a really solid front office, a very good manager who has the Nats playing very sound baseball (again, put your statistics on Riggleman aside and just watch him in a game), and are generally movin on up fast. You can tell your friends that you picked all this up – again, not through your statistics, but by actually watching the Nats – before a bunch of pitchers named Strasburg, Wang, Detwiler, Storen, and Jordan Zimmerman arrived and maybe also before a guy named Bryce Harper arrived a little later. Know him?

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