Now that Adam Dunn has declined arbitration and is officially a "former National," his loss can be looked at from a more objective perspective.
Though I hoped against hope that the team would re-sign the slugging first baseman, it now is easier to admit that the Nationals can become a better team without him.
There is no question that Dunn was a poor fielder. He had no range at first and let too many balls hit right at him end up in right field. But Dunn's defense wasn't the real problem for the Nationals.
In his two seasons playing inside the Beltway, Dunn averaged .264-38-104 with a .378 on-base percentage. Certainly, that's top-five production for a first baseman. But Washington is a city that thrives on "internal numbers" and Dunn's just aren't very good.
He batted just .169 with runners in scoring position and two outs. With the bases loaded, he was even worse, batting just .125. Dunn hit .146 in the 9th inning. A full 20 percent of his at-bats went to 0-2 and he ended up batting .139/.162/269 with three home runs and six RBI in those 108 at-bats.
So when the team needed him most, Adam Dunn all too often didn't come through.
Let's compare Dunn's clutch statistics with former teammate Ryan Zimmerman.
Zimmerman batted .365/.507/.538 with two outs and runners in scoring position. With the bases loaded, he hit .353/.391/.412. With an 0-2 count, Zimmerman batted .214 and doubled Dunn's RBI output. In the 9th inning, he hit .278/.400/.500.
Carlos Pena seems to be the player General Manager, Mike Rizzo most wants to replace Dunn, but his clutch statistics are even worse than Dunn's. Adam LaRoche, another possibility at first, isn't much better.
Based on who is available this off-season, the Nationals will need to sign two offensive players (first and in the outfield) to make up for the loss of Dunn's power. If they do that, and both players are at least average defenders, then the loss of Adam Dunn will be tolerable.
That said, I still think that the Nationals might have the answer to their first base question already on their roster in Mike Morse.
Over 162 games, Morse would have hit .289-30-82 last season with a .352 on-base percentage. He batted .350/.469/.550 with two out and runners in scoring position and .299/.396/.550 with two out and no one on.
If the Nationals play Morse at first in 2011, and find a .280-20-80 guy to replace him in right field, then yes, the loss of Dunn will be minimized. But the addition of Carlos Pena, and an outfield of Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan and Morse/Roger Bernadina, will only lead to another season of woe in Washington.
I have been writing about the Nationals since before they played their first game here, and seldom have I questioned team management. That said, losing Dunn and not replacing him with at least equal power, be it from one or two players, will cause the few remaining fans to just walk away.
Here's hoping Rizzo has a grand plan that will shortly be implemented.
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