Brian, Feature, First Base

The Problem with Adam Dunn


"I crush..."

I was tinkering around with one of my head-to-head teams the other day, trying to improve my lackluster production, and I started to look at the career of one of my bench players: Adam Dunn. I got so sidetracked that I didn’t even end up making any changes to my team, but I did discover something fairly interesting. Dunn, who used to be thought of as a top tier player, in both fantasy and reality, has never been to the playoffs in his 11-year career. This isn’t some enormously enormous finding, but it is when you couple it with these two facts: 1) Dunn has only once been on a .500 or better team and 2) each organization that Dunn left, via trade or free agency, either made the playoffs or went .500 or better (the 2011 Washington Nationals went 80-81 without Dunn)—or both—within two years of being Dunn-less.

What makes it even worse is the Cincinnati Reds were 85-77 in 2000, the year before he broke into the Bigs. The Arizona Diamondbacks, the team Dunn was traded to mid-2008 to help them make the playoffs, ended up stumbling down the stretch (22-22 with Dunn) and missed the playoffs by two games to the dreaded Dodgers. In 2010, the Chicago White Sox were 88-74 (you guessed it!) without Dunn. Last year, in his first year with the club, the ChiSox went 79-83 and he hit a paltry .159, gathering only 66 hits, while striking out 177 times.

At first I thought I was reading a science fiction novel. This couldn’t be! Adam Dunn was a renowned player, someone pundits and experts and baseball writers praised for his consistent play. Every year you could count on three things: Dunn hitting 40 homers, death, and taxes. How could he have only ever been on one .500 or better team and never once been to the playoffs?

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Dunn is one of those all or nothing players. Sure he might hit a load of homeruns every year, but he’s also going to strikeout at a consistent rate (not once in his career has he had more hits than strikeouts in a season). Even though he walks a lot to compensate for his lack of hits, a player that strikes out 180-200 times a year is giving away about 1/3 of his at-bats.

After I looked into Dunn’s past, it made me wonder what other prolific strikeout kings have kept their teams from the playoffs:

Mark Reynolds made the playoffs with the D-Backs in his rookie year in 2007, but he didn’t play a full season, and only struck out 129 times. He hasn’t been to the playoffs since.

Drew Stubbs and the 2010 Reds made the playoffs in spite of his 168 strikeouts. Last year, however, the Reds faltered behind Stubbs’ 205 K.

Moneyball’s Jack Cust finished in the top-five in strikeouts between 2007-2009; the A’s didn’t sniff the playoffs during that span.

When I translate all of this into the fantasy world, building a team around a player who is going to give up 1/3 of his at-bats a year would absolutely irk me, and likely sink my fantasy team. There are 25 weeks in a baseball season, and hence 25 weeks in fantasy. If a player gets 600 at-bats a season, then that’s 24 every week. A player who strikes out 1/3 of the time is going to average almost eight strikeouts a week, and even if you’re not in a league where strikeouts are counted against you, it’s going to diminish the amount of productive at-bats that player has (only 16 if you take the strikeouts out of the equation). Already you’re starting every week 0-for-8, with 8 K, and a .000 batting average…and that’s just from one player.

On the flipside, Dunn, in his heyday, was crushing 40 bombs (which is about 1.6 a week), knocking in 100 RBI (5 a week), and taking 100 BB (5 a week) a season. Do these positive numbers outweigh the negative? I’ll leave that up to you.

Dunn already has 27 K in 61 at-bats this season, and for those of you keeping score at home, that’s a strikeout 44% of the time. He’s on pace for 256 strikeouts. That’s a number that speaks for itself.

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All stats are as of 25 April 2012

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One thought on “The Problem with Adam Dunn

  1. He also has struck out in 22 consecutive games going back to last season. The record by a player other than a pitcher is 28, held by J. Saltamachhia. I used to have Dunn in my leagues some years ago but this year I wrote he was a player to ‘avoid in the draft’. He’s just not worth having with such an inflated K rate.

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