June 27, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn (32) hits a single in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The White Sox won 12-5. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The aggressive Adam Dunn plan is back again

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There’s been a recent spate of ‘Adam Dunn’s going to be more aggressive at the plate‘ articles recently, as Dunn is apparently still holding himself to his pledge from SoxFest to swing early and more often. Jim at South Side Sox and I have both committed some internet ink to explain that this is something he’s tried before, and something he’s been forced to admit that it wasn’t for him before.

To sum up the strategy, Dunn thinks he can put more balls in play and raise his batting average if he swings earlier in the count. A few quotes reveal the specific situations that he and Jeff Manto have in mind.

From Mark Gonzales’ article from before SoxFest:

“I’ve got to be more aggressive earlier in the count,” Dunn said. “I know it sounds stupid because I try to be ready all the time. I do like to look at pitches, and sometimes it’s great. But that (3-2) is a count I don’t like. The pitcher can go so many ways.”

From the more recent Chuck Garfien profile:

“That’s going to be an emphasis this spring, just try to be more aggressive and not get myself too deep in counts,” Dunn revealed Sunday. “It’s going to be a lot harder said than done. It’s going to give me something to work on in the spring. Instead of being so selective early, especially first pitch.”

And from Manto…

“He took a lot of two-pitch strikes that probably he could have hit to left-center field. And we talked to him about it so far and he’s definitely receptive.”

He’s probably right that more aggression would reduce those strikeout totals, and who the hell are we to question Manto after he fixed Alex Rios, but at what cost would that reduction come at?

Twitter is often criticized for reducing conversation and discussion to quips and sound bites, but as @whitesoxfanjim shows here, it’s also a perfect way to express a simple concern with precision.

Dunn’s at least right about the first pitch thing, since he slugged over .700 when he swung at the first thing he saw in 2012. However, that probably says more about how much of a meatball someone has to throw to Adam Dunn to get him to swing at the first pitch, than the benefits of a larger-scale aggressive approach.

Dunn’s also right about not feeling comfortable in 3-2 counts, since no one can hit .118 across 157 full count plate appearances and really assert that he’s comfortable. His .424 OBP in that scenario sounds nice, but is still below league-average.

However, blaming Dunn’s strikeout problems on his patience is a bit of a fallacy. Perhaps in the days before that 2009 article where Dunn started mulling being more aggressive, it was right on, but ever since then the percentage of Dunn’s strikeouts (20% in 2010, 24% in 2011 and 2012) that have come looking have been below or around league average.

Obviously, when someone strikes out 222 times, 24% of that is still more than anyone else in baseball is striking out looking, but unleashing someone with the fourth-worst contact rate to swing more isn’t necessarily a good two-strike strategy, either.

As Jim put it, Dunn’s decidedly mediocre rate stats in what was supposed to be a comeback year last season (.333 OBP/.469 SLG) places him clearly in “adapt or die” territory. He can’t afford to slowly slip away using the old methods, but setting out with an approach reliant on more contact, and hitting against infield shifts that have completely brutalized him in recent years, looks every bit as barren and treacherous. The reality of his decline from what was–even in his prime–an extremely low rate of contact, may be unavoidable.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

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