- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Minimal Risk in Drafting Dunn

I was involved in a 15-team keeper league auction the other day and after staring at Adam Dunn in my queue for what seemed like and eternity, I finally made a move on him.  It wasn’t until very late in the draft and I had held back some extra cash but when I ended up shelling out $14 for him, I questioned whether or not I overpaid.  Did I not think that Dunn was worth that kind of money so late in an auction or was it simply just a temporary case of buyer’s remorse after strapping myself for cash with another few roster spots left to fill?  Then I remembered my rationale after taking him in the 13th round of the KFFL Baseball Analysis Draft & Experts League and Mike Axisa’s 10 Bold Predictions and mental order was restored.  Dunn is headed for a big rebound this year and if you can get him on the cheap (and yes, $14 for 40 HR certainly qualifies as cheap), then you make that move.

Maybe it’s not very FanGraphy of me, but I’m almost willing to throw away the data from the last two seasons.  I’ll keep the numbers in the back of my mind, of course, but I tend to think there were mitigating circumstances that drove the numbers to where they were.  Indulge me for a moment, if you will…

Dunn spends eight and a half seasons with the Reds, gets traded to the Diamondbacks midway through the season to be a rental and hits 40 home runs for the fifth consecutive year.  He then signs a 2-year, $20M contract (not overly pricey in relative terms) and though he hits only 38 bombs, his walk and strikeout rates stay within his career range while he enjoys a career high in batting average and his highest OBP since 2002.

Unfortunately though, Dunn spent a good portion of that season enduring trade rumors and questions about his impending free agency.  Despite the proclamations of GM Mike Rizzo that Dunn wasn’t going anywhere, most pundits assumed his days in D.C. were numbered.  Not that we’re talking about some uncommon distraction here, but a distraction nonetheless.

So Dunn walked into the 2010 season not only expecting to be dealt somewhere by August at the latest, but also with an immense pressure he put on himself to return to his 40-HR ways and prove his worth on the free agent market.  He had some nice moments, like his 3-HR game just before the All Star break, but overall, he saw a career-worst in both walk rate and strikeout percentage and he failed to muster up two more dingers by the end of it all to clear the 40-homer barrier.  There was nothing out of the ordinary with respect to his batted ball data and it wasn’t like pitchers were throwing to him differently.  A Swing% of 45.0% with an O-Swing% of 28.5% — both career highs — were all the evidence that you needed to see that he was up there hacking away, trying to do too much.

The White Sox then came calling with a 4-year, $56M contract and while you’d think the security of a multi-year deal would have calmed things down, it only got worse for Dunn.  Pressure to live up to the money and an early season appendectomy were certainly contributors to his slow start, but dealing with Ozzie Guillen and his volatile ways had to have added another element that likely stayed behind the scenes; atleast until Guillen started running his mouth about how he told hitting coach Greg Walker that there was a problem with Dunn’s swing shortly after his [Guillen’s] departure from Chicago.

When he failed…and miserably, at that…it became a near impossibility to recover.  The press was all over him, the fans were all over him and suddenly he went from being everyone’s lovable, big country, free-swinging, home run hitting hero to a beaten down, beleaguered, truculent bust of a player.  He was doomed from the start and it only got worse as the season progressed.

But we have a new beginning here in 2012 and whole new breed of excitement.  Yes, he looks both strong and a little slimmed down, but we’ll forgo the usual “best shape of his life” cliches.  Save for a bit of a stiff neck recently, Dunn is healthy and ready to move on with his career.  There’s no Ozzie in town and he sounds like he’s doing everything he can to put last year behind him.  He’s having a reasonably good spring with two home runs and half a dozen RBI, but what’s even better is that in 23 plate appearances, Dunn owns a 7.00 BB/K ratio.  Sure, the sample size is small and it’s only spring, but it’s a start.

Recent ADP reports on Mock Draft Central have Dunn’s ADP at 234.87 and on Yahoo it’s 246.90, so he’s not costing an arm and a leg.  Heck, he’s not even costing a finger if you’re playing in a 12-team mixed league.  You can look at the statistical trends, stick a metaphorical fork in him and avoid him altogether or you can follow the less empirical path and understand the more human side of the ballplayer and take a shot on him.  The downside is that you drop a low round draft choice a month into the season.  The upside is mammoth power.  I’ll take the upside, thank you.