Adam Dunn’s got a whole lot of walkin’ to do
By James Fegan
A stat that Nick’s (@n_schaef) and Matt (@2013WhiteSox) have been touting–and as far as I’m concerned, everyone else has stolen!–is that the White Sox as a team have only 16 walks (15 unintentional, worst in baseball) through two weeks of play, while Joey Votto has 20 all by himself.
- Damn! The White Sox really don’t have many walks
- Wow! Joey Votto is off to an incredible start
- Joey Votto–who is lagging behind his normal power production so far this season and ever since suffering a knee injury last year–is still an offensive force due to his ability to take walks and avoid bad contact. In a show of brilliant contrast, the White Sox are fifth in the league in home runs, but still have managed to be fairly inept at scoring.
We don’t want to endlessly beat the drum for the importance of walks. It’s not so much that walks are important for their own sake, it’s that they provide a steady supplemental supply of baserunners when the hits aren’t falling or the dingers aren’t dinging. A high-contact, high-average team might get away with being near the bottom of the league in walks and still get on base at a commendable rate, or a player as hot as Conor Gillaspie is right now (.444 in 27 at-bats and walkless) should be told to take some more pitches. The White Sox are not such a team, and not everyone can be as hot as Conor.
The Sox might not be a team that gets walks anymore, either.
One of the reasons they are on the far side of the bell curve early on is that one of their primary suppliers of free passes–Adam Dunn–is out of commission. Last year he accounted for 22.7% of the team’s final total, or 105 of 461. After two weeks, Dunn has drawn just two in 46 plate appearances.
Traditionally, Dunn is good for a ~15% walk rate even while on his death bed and while this isn’t the first season he’s entered with talk about becoming more aggressive, it is a season where he’s put some statistical evidence where his mouth is, albeit in an unfortunate fashion.
To the early-season swing rates that haven’t even been updated through Sunday as of writing!
Now, this is 46 plate appearances and not significant as a pattern yet. But if the question is “Is Adam Dunn swinging more so far?” The answer is “Duh.”
Swings outside the zone
Dunn’s career mark of pitches outside the zone swung at is 19.9%, but he’s been nowhere near that since his last year in Washington. His current mark of 26.4% would fit alongside his previous three seasons without a raised eyebrow if he had not said anything. This would suggest that he hasn’t lost his discipline.
Swings inside the zone
Here’s where Dunn has jumped, so far, nearly 12% from last season. He’s doing as he promised: swinging at strikes at a rate of over 76% when he’s never before cleared 70%.
That’s obviously where the information becomes even more useless, but so far the walks are gone as the percentage of plate appearances he starts with a strike has shot up by nearly 17%. The strikeout rate has stayed beefy (32.6%), the contact rate gains and decrease in swinging strikes are meager, and the early product of his contact is, well…he’s hitting .136/.174/.295 for crying out loud.
It’s a new approach and it will obviously take some time before he can find his comfort with it. But an already questionable strategy is so far delivering all of the issues that were feared–by hampering the method that accounted for nearly half of Dunn’s trips on base last season–and none of the benefits.
It will remain a point of anxiety until Dunn resolves it, since the White Sox offense is still going to look like a bunch of unproductive hackers until its cleanup hitter starts breaking even.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan