Adam Dunn's wacky method

Adam Dunn's wacky method
Still has the gum in his mouth....always // Scott Strazanttee

Not to quibble with one of the best comeback seasons of all-time, but there's something about the method to Adam Dunn's princely .369 OBP and .554 SLG, that's peculiar.  He's walking and he's hitting home runs, which is all anyone wanted him to do.

He's striking out more.  Not just more than usual, not just more than he did in his disastrous 2011 campaign, more than anyone, ever.  Dunn's currently on pace for 256 strikeouts this year, which would annihilate Mark Reynolds' MLB record of 223 in a single season.

Unlike previous challengers to the strikeout record, Dunn's more than productive enough to get every opportunity to smash it.  The normal reason people don't break the strikeout record--they get benched for ineffectiveness far too soon.

But Dunn is making it work, despite making less contact--both in the zone and outside of it.  When describing his recent rough streak, Dunn wound up summing up his plate approach pretty well.

"Actually, I haven't (chased bad pitches)," Dunn said before Wednesday night's game against the Cubs. "I just can't make contact. There are a few pitches I've swung at that are bad, but for the most part, I don't want to say I'm trying to do too much."

It's the old wrinkle in Dunn's skillset, he's incredibly discerning while still being easy to strikeout.  That didn't necessarily leave him last season, as he still would have ranked in top 10 (15.1%) in all of baseball in walk rate had he enough plate appearances to qualify.

If anything, his ability to make consistent contact is either as bad or worse than it's ever been, and if he's got roughly the same feel for the strike zone.  So, what's the difference?

The go-to stat is here--Home Runs/Fly Balls for Adam Dunn

  • Career - 21.9%
  • 2011 - 9.6%
  • 2012 - 35.9%

For a solid eight years, Dunn made his living by being able to put a little more than one out of every five fly balls into the seats.  Last year, that rate split in half, and he hit less balls in air in total because he started striking out more.  Now he's striking out just as much, but is sending more than one out of every three flies over the wall.

That's a great solution to the problem, and this new super three true outcomes player is an effective one, but the nagging question is how is he doing this?  A power surge of this size is as inexplicable as the collapse of the previous year.

He presumably hasn't gotten stronger.  Dunn makes a point on waiting for pitches in his preferred zone and swinging for the heavens rather than contact; he evened confessed to swinging too hard in a recent interview about a rough patch.

"I'm swinging too hard, actually. I know that sounds stupid, but I'm seeing it pretty good. I'm just swinging too hard."

But this is hardly a new approach for him, and we're still early enough on for it to be a blip that evens itself out.  The last player to see his fly balls leaved the yard with greater frequency was Ryan Howard in 2006, which provides some precedent for the outburst but also define it as a rarity for players to keep squaring balls up so cleanly for an entire season.

Even though all the homers he hit are already in the bank and produced, Dunn's power should regress back to what it's been his entire career, as it's rare to have a early-30's power uptick to mask all of his other declining skills.

That wouldn't be an awful thing, what he's done is already in the books.  Even on cruise control, Dunn could hit the 40-HR, 100-BB performance benchmarks he once made automatic.

But if there is anyone capable of operating on the extremes, and flouting our ideas of what type of performance profiles hitters can get away with, it's naturally Adam Dunn.

 

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