Adam Dunn, who has revealed himself to be quite the humble charmer now that he’s no longer setting entire seasons ablaze, was quick to downplay the significance of winning the Sporting News AL Comeback Player of the Year award on Tuesday.
To start, he noted that Alex Rios had a better season than him without prompting:
“Alex carried us. He played Gold Glove [Award] right field, stole bases, got big hits and hit homers. Without him, we were sunk.”
Then, he made a surprisingly self-deprecating qualification to his turnaround season (besides noting how awful it is to be considered for the award in the first place)
“The good thing is it’s a semi-turnaround.”
The footnote to Dunn’s comeback is not only that Rios outperformed him, but provided a better model for a productive future. Rios’ athletic build always made it likely he would age better than most of his counterparts. But at age 31, his excellent contact skills remained undiminished, he maintained his home run pull power while driving the ball to all fields, and seemed comfortable again in right field.
Dunn, on the other hand, injected the power back into this game, and little else. His 34.2% strikeout rate was only a slight dip from 2011 and still far worse than any other point his career. Defensive shifts killed him to the tune of a .246 average on balls in play, after he was in the .320’s throughout his time in Washington.
Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com
That cluster of red dots represents grounders hit hopelessly to the three guys simultaneously playing second base.
Dunn’s not making enough contact, and getting less and less out of the little contact that he gets. That’s how he found himself in a situation where he led the leagues in walks and only managed a .333 OBP.
It’s not as if Dunn hasn’t realized this. He’s naturally gotten badgered for his low average his entire career–even when he was still dominant–and has been feeling his way through adjustments throughout. That’s why there’s a hesitance to suggest that some sort of overhaul in approach can take place after over 7000 major league plate appearances. There’s even a loose connection between deluded Spring Training pledges to hit .300, and an escalation in pitches he chased outside of the strike zone.
Still, despite the hardware he has to make room for on his shelf, Dunn is coming off a season that was for all intents and purposes, the second-worst of his career, and he’s more than ready to tinker. He expressed a fondness for the expanded coverage his obligue injury-weakened swing gave him in September, and pledged to try be more aggressive early in the count going forward.
“I have said it before, I’d really like to be more aggressive early in the count,” Dunn said. “I would like not to single it down to one pitch and one location. Just look at location and hit off of that.”
That’s going to be a very tall order for him. He admitted as much three years ago to the Washington Post.
When Dunn describes his approach to batting, he talks about the strike zone as if it’s a 50-acre farm. His 20-10 vision is so hypersensitive that every pitch looks exaggerated: Outside pitches are way outside, and even borderline pitches don’t look hittable. “That’s why I get a lot of strike calls on me on close pitches, because to me, they’re just off the plate,” Dunn said. “And I can’t swing at it. I can’t.”
To say the least, it’s going to be interesting to see what Dunn comes up with. There are two more expensive years left on his contract, and probably too many red flags present for those years to take place anywhere besides the South side. If he’s going to be taking up one of the 1B/DH slots in the Sox order, he’ll need to produce, but all indications are that he’s slowing down significantly. Fighting it will involve going against his inherent nature as a player, which in general, is not considered a fun thing to do.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan