How historically bad has Adam Dunn been?

How historically bad has Adam Dunn been?

Adam Dunn has been the focus of scrutiny from White Sox fans this past season for his incredible lack of production.  While watching Dunn miss an outside curveball this past weekend by nearly a foot, a thought came across my mind.   I know Adam Dunn has been bad, but just how bad has he been?   As an avid follower of baseball statistics, I took to Fan Graphs and began to do some research.

As most of you may have imagined, Adam Dunn is having an atrocious season.  In fact, it may be in the running for one of the worst statistical seasons in baseball history.  Does this mean that he is going to be equally as bad in 2012?

First let’s take a look at Adam Dunn’s 2011 numbers, and see just how historically bad he has been:


Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

Adam Dunn has the 4th worst WAR since 1960.

His -2.5 WAR is only bested (worsted?) by:

  • -2.9 from Neifi Perez in 2002
  • -2.8 from Jose Guillen in 1997
  • -2.7 from Mike Caruso in 1999

His -2.5 WAR, which still has the ability to drop even lower, is the 8th lowest WAR since 1910.  That is the 8th worst WAR out of 11,079 eligible individual seasons.

WAR uses two separate statistics to calculate a players value.  It uses wRAA, which is weighted runs above average (a variation of the weighted on base average statistic) and UZR which is a metric that measures a players value in the field.  UZR puts a simple run value towards the amount of runs cost or runs saved to a team during a season.   Adam Dunn has spent the majority of this season as the White Sox DH.  Nearly all of Dunn’s negative WAR comes from his poor plate performance.  Can you imagine where his WAR would be if he played in the field all season?

What this tells us, is that Dunn’s numbers have been bad, but they actually had the potential to be worse if he took the field on a consistent basis.  Scary.

Batting Average

For those of you more interested in traditional statistics, Adam Dunn still can rank high on your list of worst seasons in Major League Baseball history.   In fact, in terms of batting average, Adam Dunn is having by far the worst season in MLB history.

Again, since 1910 and out of 11,079 eligible individual seasons, Adam Dunn has the worst single season batting average since 1910.    Adam Dunn’s .163 batting average is by far the worst, in fact.  The Second lowest since 1910 is Rob Deer, who finished the 1991 season with a .179 batting average.

Strikeouts and K%

K% is a very simple statistic.  It is calculated by dividing Strikeouts by Plate Appearances.   Adam Dunn strikeouts 35.8% of the time he comes up to the plate.  This is the highest K% since 1910.  *Granted Fan Graphs K% statistical records do not go all the way back to 1910, however it is safe to say that Dunn’s K% is higher than those recorded in the 1910’s.

Adam Dunn’s current strikeout total stands at 156 in 435 plate appearances.  Dunn most likely won’t reach Mark Reynolds total strikeout numbers (record of 223 in 2009), however that is not because he’s not trying.  If Dunn ended up with as many plate appearances as Reynolds in 2009, he would be on pace to record 237.40 strikeouts (662 plate appearances multiplied by Adam Dunn’s current K%).

Designated Hitter specific statistics

Since the designated hitter was implemented in 1973, there have been 344 individual seasons that qualify on Fan Graphs.  Of those 334 DH seasons, Adam Dunn’s 2011 season ranks as:

  • The lowest slugging percentage of any designated hitter at .289.
  • The 2nd lowest OPS at .578.
  • The 2nd lowest WOBA (Weighted On Base Average) at .268.
  • The lowest wRC (Runs Created) at 32.3.


The thing I find most ironic about Adam Dunn’s historic collapse, is that it is almost seen as an indictment on saber-metrics.  Dunn was a statistical darling for years.  Dunn consistently put up OPS numbers in the high .800 and low .900’s.  Prior to this season, Dunn hadn’t had a year with an OPS below .800 in his career.  This is phenomenal production.  I, like many, thought Dunn was a steal for the White Sox.   It was the baseball stupid (or so I thought) that clamored that Dunn struck out too much, hit for too low of an average, and couldn’t steal a base.  These fans didn’t understand the value that Dunn could bring to a team, and I fear that with Dunn’s 2011 production they never will.

Adam Dunn’s 2011 is aberration; A statistical outlier on the data plot that is his career.  I believe in using  statistics as a predictor for how a player should perform.  Obviously, this season Adam Dunn has had shakes this belief some.   I’d be willing to bet that Dunn will return to somewhere near his production levels of the past, rather than perform as atrociously as he has thus far in a White Sox uniform.

Brian Weaver
Offhanded Dribble Contributor


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  • Obviously, things have got so bad, I'm looking up worst seasons of all time. There is one question- What is the minimum number of AB, or PA to qualify? The reason I ask is because Ray Oyler, a Detroit Tiger, hit .135 in 215 AB in 1968, which would give him the worst average of all least for someone with over 200 AB.

  • cdees, you are correct and Ray Oyler is also who Stephen Colbert references in this bit on the Colbert Report, which makes fun of Adam Dunn and Craig Counsel:

    In terms of minimum number of plate appearances, I use's amazing statistical database, and their records use players who qualify for the batting title. Since 1957, players need to have 3.1 plate appearances for every game the team has played. At the end of the season, that ends up being at least 502 plate appearances (with exception to the strike shortened seasons).

    Prior to 1957 it was a little more confusing. Thanks for reading!

  • I think the more interesting question is-how historically great has Dayan Viciedo been? .538 average through 9 AB. Imagine that for a whole season. The Sox would have been like 90-30 or something.

    I hate this blog.

  • haha - i love how I am submitting this article for post of the month, and one of the writers of this blog writes in the comments of said post "i hate this blog."

    This has to win now, right? haha

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