Continuing my periodic ranting and raving about the current free agent class, I have come to Adam Dunn.
Mr. Dunn, power hitter extraordinaire, earned a four year deal with the Chicago White Sox a week ago.
Deal He Got: Four years, $14 million/year
Deal He Should Have Got: what he got seems about right
The combination of power and the ability to get on base puts Dunn in an elite class of power hitters. Sure, he doesn’t hit for high average.
The colossal strikeout numbers and snails-pace speed prevent that, but seven consecutive seasons of no less than 38 home runs are nothing to gloss over.
On bad teams Dunn has repeatedly knocked in between 100 to 110 runs. On a White Sox team that can be expected to compete in 2011, I can see him reaching 120.
Hitting in front of Dunn will be Juan Pierre, Alexei Ramirez and Paul Konerko. Pierre and Ramirez are good hitters with average on base skills. Konerko is a very good all around hitter, so Dunn should find himself in position to knock these guys in.
He’ll be protected in the lineup by some pop in the form of Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin. Dayan Viciedo could make an appearance in that lineup as well, but I think he could stand to take a few more walks. He should learn that in the minors.
The offensive Achilles heel for Dunn is his strikeouts.
He whiffs in nearly one third of his at bats. Only two players with 200+ plate appearances in 2010 had higher K-rates than Dunn. They were Jack Cust and Mark Reynolds. Similar players, but neither as good as Dunn.
We may have some reason to be concerned about the future. His strikeout rate in 2010 was 35.7 percent, higher than ever before. His walk rate was down to 11.9 percent, lower than ever before but still above average.
What’s worrisome is that this is almost two standard deviations below his average walk rate in his career.
This decline in walks may be due to some systematic factor such as a change in Dunn’s mechanics, a change in the type of pitching he faced (unlikely) or a change in his health status (doubtful).
Or maybe he's leaving his prime years behind. The changes in these ratios appear too great to be random noise, but Dunn’s ability to draw a walk and get on base is still respectable. He will probably continue to show good discipline for the next few years.
This pitching in the NL East is arguably better than what Dunn can expect to face in the American league central. He should have no trouble hitting .260 next year and getting on base at a clip of .360 or so.
I doubt the White Sox were thinking much about the .260 average when they signed Dunn. We all know he’s as close to a sure thing to hit 35 or more home runs. That consistent power is what makes him an attractive hitter. Above and beyond most power hitters.
U.S. Cellular Field, where the White Sox play their home games, is actually quite similar to Nationals Park. The only significant differences are that U.S. Cellular’s center field wall is 9 feet closer to home plate, the right field wall down the line is two feet closer, and 2 feet deeper in right-center. Adam Dunn isn’t really a pull hitter, except for when he hits ground balls, which should make him suitable for hitting in any environment.
Adam Dunn is usually good for about 30 runs below average in the field, whether he’s at first base or in the outfield. Spending some time at DH will help maximize his value, and is almost certainly what Ozzie Guillen is planning.
With Paul Konerko set to return, Dunn could be looking at his most productive year overall because he won't be causing any harm in the field.
Overall Dunn is an extremely consistent hitter with exceptional power. He manages to stay relevant by getting on base often enough for teams to allow his extreme power to remain in the lineup.
While power bats like Marcus Thames or Wilson Betemit are unsuitable for regular playing time due to a lack of consistent plate discipline or contact, Dunn had managed to keep the batting average reasonable and the walks plentiful.
The mark of a good power hitter is to be just good enough at other things to keep his power in the lineup, and Dunn’s ability to do this makes him worth $56 million over four years.
There is no question that Dunn essentially replacing Mark Kotsay provides a huge offensive boost. I don’t know if this puts the White Sox ahead of the Twins next year, but it’s a good signing nonetheless. If Minnesota gets a healthy Justin Morneau back next year, the AL Central will be a very interesting race.