At the beginning of the 2011 season, few players received as much hype as Adam Dunn. After signing a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals his first time in free agency, Dunn did what he does best: hit home runs, strike out, and walk. Dunn was the model of consistency: 38 home runs both years in D.C. (following 5 straight 40 homer campaigns), about 100 walks (116 in 2009, 77 in 2010), and close to 200 strikeouts (177 and 199 respectively) each season. If that wasn’t quite enough to earn a good free agent contract, Dunn played in 159 and 158 games during his time in Washington.
Signing a 4 year, $56 million dollar deal with the White Sox made it look like things were finally going Dunn’s way. The White Sox, a team not known as a bastion of progressive baseball had signed a high-strikeout slugger to a big contract…to serve as the designated hitter. Not first base, not left field, DH. They would have their own David Ortiz, or a the very least, a player a far sight better than Mark Kotsay.
Cellular Field is a homer friendly park and was coming off a 2010 season where it was very hitter friendly to hitters. Dunn was expected to thrive. But something happened: he didn’t. His strikeout and walk numbers were similar to the year before, but one hundred points of batting average disappeared, along with his on-base and slugging percentages, and the possible 50 home run season for Dunn turned into just 11.
Fast forward to 2012 and everything has changed. Well, some things have changed. Entering the penultimate day of April Dunn had racked up 33 strikeouts, 14 walks, and 4 home runs. He’d hit another against Boston that afternoon and pick up two more walks and a strikeout as well for a perfect Adam Dunn day. For a guy who didn’t hit hit fifth home run until May 24th in 2011 (forgotten in Dunn’s troubles last year: on opening day he went 2-4 with a double, a home run, and 4 RBI) this is quite the improvement. The 2010 vintage of Adam Dunn, though the same number of games (22), looked like this: 22 strikeouts, 15 walks, and 4 home runs. The uptick in Ks is potentially alarming – Dunn has struck out at least once per game in 2012 – but at the moment are not overwhelming his game.
While his early season like of .224/.352/.474, good for an .825 OPS, may not be quite the Adam Dunn of old it is certainly an improvement over the Dunn of 2011. His April has, baring a very unusual Monday, claim to the title of Three True Outcomes Champion for baseball’s first month. Entering Sunday, Dunn lead all major leaders with 51 TTO events. He was followed by Padres third baseman Chase Headley (46), Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson (45), Reds first baseman Joey Votto (43), and Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks (43). Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, off to a tremendous start, had the 9th highest TTO score (40) based on his mammoth contribution in the home run department: 11 dingers, 18 strikeouts, and 11 walks. Yes Matt Kemp’s HR:BB ratio stood at 1.00, which is as interesting a feat as Paul Byrd’s flirtation with more wins than walks a few seasons ago.
The inclusion of Kemp among the leaders in TTO is interesting in itself. Along with Joey Votto, Kemp is a player who can hit for a high batting average, a slightly different profile from the hulking stereotype with a good batting eye. Kemp has a career .297 batting average, including a .324 mark last year. Yet, as a player who struck out at last 139 times in each of the last four seasons, and walked 74 times in 2011 (although his previous high was just 53), Kemp’s power and K potential make him at least a two true outcome player.
For now, Adam Dunn can feel like he has righted the ship. The strikeouts will decrease unless he goes on to crush the existing season strikeout records. The walks are there. The power has returned.