“Any list of the biggest failures in 2011 has to start with Adam Dunn (.159-11-42 in 496 at-bats. I still can’t believe he was that atrocious). However, a teammate of Dunn’s also has to be in the top-10 [Alex Rios]…” That was my opening to my Alex Rios Player Profile from back in November of 2011. Today I’ll complete that thought by discussing the most pathetic performer of 2011 – Mr. Adam Dunn.
From 2004-2010 Dunn hit at least 38 homers each year. Only one man in history has a run of more than 7-straight years of hitting 38 or more homers each season. It’s not Babe Ruth who tied with Dunn at seven (1926-32), or Barry Bonds who never did it more than five years in a row (2000-04). The answer to this riddle is actually Rafael Palmeiro (1995-2003).
From 2004-10 Dunn had at least 92 RBI each year. That’s well short of the record of 13-straight such seasons held by Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Alex Rodriguez. Still, only five men were able to hit that total each year from 2004-10: Albert Pujols, Arod, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera and Dunn.
From 2004-10 Dunn scored at least 79 runs each season. Only six others joined Dunn in that group: Bobby Abreu, Teixeira, Pujols, Cabrera, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon.
All told, how many big leaguer posted a line of 38 homers, 92 RBI and 79 runs scored each year from 2004-10? The answer is one – Adam Dunn.
So what the hell happened in 2011 to the then 32 year old slugger? Some thoughts.
Maybe he wasn’t totally comfortable in his new home in Chicago?
Maybe the pressure of a big money deal got to him (4-years, $56 million)?
Maybe he lost confidence when he struggled?
Maybe health woes, like his appendicitis, ruined his timing?
Maybe he didn’t like being the DH? He hit mere .176 with a. 621 OPS in 81 such games (to be honest though, those numbers were better than his overall totals of .159 and .569).
Let’s get past the maybe’s and look at the raw data.
As I’ve laid out, there wasn’t a more consistent power hitter in the game than Dunn. At 32 years of age, in a ballpark that benefits hitters, there was zero reason to expect a collapse in 2011. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to roll the calendar back 12 months and find anyone who had a bad thing to say about Dunn as most expected the move to Chicago to lead to at least, at the very worst, a replication, of his 2010 effort (.260-38-103-85). What happened then?
Did he walk less than normal? Nope. His 15.1 percent walk rate was pretty much a match for his 16.2 percent career rate.
Did he strike out more than normal? Heck yes he did. A career 27.6 K rate is terrible, but last season that number grew to epic proportions as it ended up at 35.7 percent. That was only the second time in his career that the mark was over 29 percent.
Did his hit type change? Not if you judge him by his GB/FB rate which was 0.68, a near identical match to his career rate of 0.71 percent. As for his line drive rate it was 20.0 percent. Not only was that mark his third best since 2003, it was also above his 19.6 career rate. So he hit as many grounders, liners and fly balls as normal. Wait, what? I know, it makes no sense does it? Dunn was pretty much the same hitter as always in terms of these three categories. The real issue though was two-fold. (1) His BABIP shrunk to a career worst .240 (career .292). 2011 was only the second time since 2004 that his BABIP mark was under .276. Given a career norm in the line drive category, that dip in BABIP really isn’t explainable, at least not simply (a loss of bat speed, bad luck, etc.). (2) For each season from 2003-10, Dunn had produced a HR/F ratio of 20.8 percent. In 2011 that number dropped to 9.6 percent. To state is another way, Dunn went from being elite to league average overnight. That just doesn’t happen.
Given the totality of his career, his age, and his home ballpark, I find it nearly impossible to predict another outage in 2012. The question is, how much will Dunn bounce back? Admittedly I’m a big fan of the Big Donkey, but I think the data leads to that point of view. If I had to put a floor on his production I’d think 2002 (.249-26-71-84). However, I’m not ruling out a return to 35-90-90 levels because I really cannot explain what the hell went wrong in 2011. Maybe he ticked off a practitioner of the dark arts who put a whammy on him. I’m not going to draft Dunn as my starter at first base, but if falls out of the top-20 at first base, like he’s currently ranked at Fleaflicker, then sign up Mr. Dunn for my squad.
By Ray Flowers