Saturday, July 26, 2008

In Defense of Adam Dunn

Now that one of the corner outfielders the Mets were targeting is off the market, let's turn our gaze to the guy I really want - Adam Dunn.

Yes, I hear the detractors shouting from the rooftops already. Adam Dunn walks too much. He doesn't drive in enough runs. His batting average is too low and his strikeout totals are too high. He's a terrible defensive outfielder, bad to the point of indifference. Some people have gone so far as to call him indifferent to all aspects of the game. The chic comparison is Dave Kingman, whose name is often the one bandied about when attempting to devalue Dunn's offensive prowess.

These are all just talking points that have more to do with taking unwarranted potshots at Adam Dunn then they do with actual baseball analysis. I would argue that calling Dunn "Dave Kingman with more walks" is something like saying Tony Gwynn is "Mitch Webster with more hits." It's a bad comparison that seems to be built on disparaging a good player by saying he is merely better than a not-so-good player.

This strange notion that middle-of-the-order hitters shouldn't walk simply doesn't make any sense to me. Adam Dunn walks so often because National League pitchers are afraid he will hit a home run off them. They pitch around him, because when you challenge Adam Dunn by throwing strikes you are risking the possibility that the baseball will land 450 feet away from home plate.

It seems as though his detractors would prefer that Dunn swings at all these pitches out of the strike zone instead of taking a walk, even though that would lead to more outs and less production. If you don't like his .230 batting average and his 175 strikeouts a year now, what will you to think of his statistics when he's swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone?

Dunn's patience does not clog bases, as it has been suggested; he unclogs them by hitting home runs. Dunn is nowhere near the slowest guy in baseball and he is not a notably bad baserunner either. He steals five to 10 bases a year, which is an eminently reasonable total for a 40-home run hitter. Why is it a bad thing that he creates RBI opportunities for the players behind him when he's not hitting home runs? Should Carlos Delgado (who once went four straight seasons without stealing a base) stop taking walks because is slower than Dunn and less adept at running the bases?

The HR to RBI ratio is a fallacious argument. Dunn's batting average and slugging average with runners in scoring position are .244/.561, both of which are higher than his overall numbers this season (.234 and .547). RBIs, however, are completely dependent on the batter having runners on base to drive in. If the Reds don't put runners on base ahead of Dunn, how on earth can he be expected to drive them in?

Dunn has mostly batted fifth for Cincinnati this season. The on-base percentages for the 1 through 4 hitters in the Reds' lineup this season has been .323/.320/.340/.325. Compare that to the Mets, who have gotten OBPs of .363/.370/.389/.367 from their 1 through 4 hitters. That's an additional 40 to 50 points of on-base percentage at each position, which works out to approximately 80 more baserunners in front of the fifth-place hitter in the lineup. Had Dunn been batting fifth for the Mets all season and put up equal numbers, he would be good for an additional 20 RBIs or so. Would his detractors sneer at 29 home runs and 88 RBIs in 99 games?

(How did I come to that conclusion? Dunn is batting .244 with runners in scoring position, almost exactly one hit every four at-bats. With 80 more RBI opportunities in the form of 80 baserunners, I'm simply assuming he'll convert one-fourth of them into RBIs.)

Adam Dunn is the most under-valued player in baseball. Which GM is going to be smart enough to see past the talking points and add an excellent offensive player to their lineup?

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