And you know if I strikeout, okay, you know whatever, but if there are guys, runners in scoring position, things like that and you strikeout too, that to me, that’s bad. – Adam Dunn
In all of baseball, there is no man more distinctively and consistently himself than Adam Dunn. In an uncertain world, he is a treasure. Adam Dunn does three things well; no more, no less. Because none of them requires any effort from the opposing defense, Adam Dunn is a gentleman, as well as a treasure. But although he does three things well, he only does one of these things with true greatness, and that is striking out. If nothing else, history will remember this about this man: Adam Dunn struck out.
At a spry 33 years old, Dunn is fourth on the career strikeouts list, with barely 500 K’s — that is, three modest seasons — to go to catch all-time leader Reggie Jackson. Of the 13 greatest strikeout years in the history of the game, Dunn owns four, capped by his 2012 masterpiece that featured the highest strikeout rate, over at least 600 PA’s, of all time. He is the definitive, the inimitable master of the strikeout. In Mark Reynolds he has a worthy young rival, but because Dunn swings less and sees more pitches, his strikeouts have a complexity, a narrative, that Reynolds’ cannot match. He is an artist.
Adam Dunn strikes out more than once a game, on average, and he is capable of striking out for many, many games in a row. Once he struck out for 36 games in a row, which is a record. For fans of the Reds, Nationals, and White Sox over the past twelve years, Adam Dunn’s strikeouts have been a deeply comforting part of the daily routine. But statistics dictate that there will be games when Dunn does not strike out at all. Very occasionally, there are multiple such games in a row. On five separate occasions, Dunn has failed to strike out for four consecutive games — most recently, and notably, in August of 2009, during a four-game series against his old teammates in Cincinnati.
And then there was this. For one, inexplicable outlier of a week, in the dog days of aught-five, Adam Dunn did something that defies all statistics. For seven full games — really, the better part of nine — Dunn could not manage a single, solitary K. I have stared at these play logs for longer than I’d care to admit, turning them backwards, forwards, upside down, in a vain effort to comprehend their meaning. I have scoured the news archives for evidence of some injury, some distraction, some cosmic misalignment, something that would help to incorporate this event into my desperately strained worldview. There is nothing. Some nuts cannot be cracked.
Dunn struck out looking on August 24th, in the second inning, against the Nationals’ John Patterson. That was the last time he would strike out for an astounding 37 plate appearances, during which he logged six walks (one intentional), one hit-by-pitch, fourteen flyouts, six groundouts, three foulouts, one fielder’s choice, one single, four doubles, and one home run, for a triple-slash of .200/.351/.433. This was, by any measure, a poor stretch for Dunn. (Compare his season line of .247/.387/.540, or his career line of .238/.368/.497.) His failure to strike out cannot be chalked up to an unlucky sequence of pitchers. Sure, he had four PA’s against Livan Hernandez, to say nothing of Josh Fogg or Mark Redman. But he also faced Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, and the aforementioned Patterson, who ranked twelfth among all starters in K/9; and, most shockingly, he had the golden opportunity of two appearances against Michael Gonzalez (10.44 K/9) and two against Brad Lidge (13.12). Not until LOOGY John Foster was brought in specifically to face him, in the seventh inning on September the second, did Dunn finally break through. It was not mentioned in the papers the following day, and in fact, the entire streak seems to have gone completely unnoticed.
Was Dunn’s great drought the result of something intentional? Was he trying something new? Was it simply a staggering accumulation of chance? We will probably never know. What we do know is that Adam Dunn, for one long, dark week, failed utterly and completely to do that which he does best. Unsurprisingly, there were consequences, and they were not good ones. Dunn’s penchant for strikeouts is not what most would deem a “positive” attribute. But it is a vital part of being Adam Dunn. Let that be a lesson.
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