The Adam Dunn experiment has to end.
No, the experiment refers to Dunn’s newfound approach at the plate—an approach he spoke at length about during a spring training interview with Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzalez:
"I'm fighting myself over this," Dunn said, "because I don't want to give up something that I do very well, like walks and get deep in counts, to something in the past I haven't done very well, and that's being more aggressive early on."
The experiment, in a nutshell, is Dunn’s attempt to swing at more pitches early in the count. Instead of letting hittable pitches go past him, he is going to make an effort to hack away.
This wasn’t just Dunn trying to mess around with a new technique, it appears to be endorsed, and even encouraged, by the White Sox:
Manager Robin Ventura sees avoiding strikeouts as only one benefit of Dunn trying to swing earlier in counts.
"Sometimes you can be so selective," said Ventura, adding that Dunn is usually successful when he puts the ball in play and is talented enough to hit to all fields and foil the strategy of defending the left-handed hitter with extreme shifts to the right.”
The good news: he has definitely stuck with the plan.
The bad news: That is the only good news.
Dunn has been an absolute mess at the plate this year. The aforementioned statistics give a snapshot into his terrible year, but it gets much worse when you dig through the numbers.
Dunn’s certainly swinging at pitches in the zone. The problem is they aren’t good hits or good swings. His Z-Swing% (Percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone) is a career-high 74.7 percent. Even his contact rate on those swings are at a career high.
His plan was to swing at more pitches early in the count, be more aggressive and make more contact. Success? Not exactly.
Dunn has an 11-year track record of a three true-outcome (home run, walk or strikeout) success. Throughout those 11 years, very few players in the MLB have had the same success at generating the three outcomes as Dunn.
The White Sox presumably signed Dunn to be, well, Adam Dunn. Why are they trying to turn him into Juan Pierre?
The whole concept is baffling when you look at where Dunn’s success has come in his career. While fans were sometimes agitated by Dunn looking at a first pitch strike, it was all a process. Dunn was trying to get himself into favorable hitter’s counts like 2-0 and 3-0.
Before 2013, Dunn had 19 percent of his career plate appearances include 2-0 counts, according to Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com. Sixty-eight percent of those counts resulted in either a home run or a walk for Dunn, who has only seen seven percent of his plate appearances get to 2-0 in 2013.
Moreover, his frequency of 3-0 counts are down from a career total of eight percent to four percent. Like 2-0, Dunn feasted off 3-0 counts in the past, 418 career walks in 483 career 3-0 counts, good enough for your run-of-the-mill .865 on-base percentage.
Dunn now finds himself seeing first-pitch strikes 70 percent of the time. That’s almost 20 percent higher than he’s ever had.
Stats aside, anyone should have seen the issue with making Dunn an early-count hacker or a hacker in general.
Instead of teeing off on hitter’s pitches, mistake pitches or hanging breaking balls, Dunn’s essentially swinging at everything he can. This means shorter swings presumably, but also weaker swings.
Dunn is making much more contact and striking out less, but that is not something to be celebrated.
Dunn is no longer hitting home runs at the same level he once was as his fly-ball percentage is at a career-low 41.9 percent, and his HR/FB is at a pedestrian 15.4 percent, trailing only his disastrous 9.6 percent in 2011.
His .149 ISO (SLG-AVG) is again only trailed by his terrible 2011 season. On the flip side, his ground-ball percent is at a career-high 38.7 percent.
One way or another, the experiment needs to stop now. There’s no reason Dunn should abandon everything that made him successful and made him the high-priced free agent the White Sox signed.
Sure, he has not been the same Dunn he was in Washington or Cincinnati but that’s no reason to run in the other direction. It’s just an asinine plan and experiment at this point in Dunn’s career and with a person of Dunn’s skill level.
We will just have to wait and see if anything changes. As it stands now, you could justifiably say the White Sox are better off giving his at-bats to Conor Gillespe or any number of White Sox hitters at the rate Dunn is going.
My hope is that he looks in the mirror, abandons this strategy and goes back to what made him successful. We may never see the Dunn of old, but this season, Dunn has White Sox fans clamoring for the 2012 version.