Happier times. // Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Take a player’s high water mark on the season, then calculate his performance from that point on. It’s a really fun way to see some of the worst work they are capable of putting together. Nothing tempers your excitement for average hitter like uncovering the 40-game stretch where he clocked in with a .600 OPS.
That said, Adam Dunn has put together quite a stretch since hitting the tremendous height of an .826 OPS on Aug 17.
21 games, 84 plate appearances, 8 for 78 with 38 strikeouts, six walks, three home runs. .103/.167/.218, 45% K-rate.
Historically, a little stretch of Adam Dunn whiffing like a madman isn’t something to get in a tizzy about. He’s still clocking a home run per week over this selection despite being otherwise decrepit at the plate.
But the White Sox haven’t dealt with historical Adam Dunn. Rather than hit the ground running in Chicago, he hit the ground and played dead for a season, and has done little since to prove himself worthy of the death grip on the designated hitter slot he’s had for the better part of three years. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. The slumps are treated as standard procedure and the hot streaks are the blips.
There have been inspiring outbursts in these years, but they have been quickly realized to be fool’s gold. Dunn hit 23 home runs in the first 65 games of 2012 for a .953 OPS, but his success was predicated on a huge jump in his isolated power. He was squeezing a .580 slugging percentage out of a .230 batting average, which was absurd even for the mighty Dunn, and was unlikely to suddenly become a new reality at age 32. Sure enough, it wasn’t, and he slugged .387 for the rest of the season.
The reasons for trusting 2012’s hot start seem flimsy in retrospect. He had been dead, so there was excitement to jump on any notion that he was back. But this year’s mid-summer heat wave (.287/.391/.547 over 82 games from May 15-Aug 17) had some harder reporting behind it. CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes got Dunn talking about his efforts to use the whole field, got Jeff Manto to back it up, then backed that up with spray charts, then backed that up with the observation that the league had stopped shifting on him and gobbling up the few line drives Dunn was spraying on the diamond.
It was all very much on the up-and-up. And then he was only striking out 25.6% of the time too, which was an extra-fun correlation to add to the good news.
Now, not only is Dunn catching up on whiffs in a huge way, but this is happening.
Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media
This is defensive alignment Dunn grounded out into Tuesday night. The spray chart over this awful stretch doesn’t suggest that Dunn has completely reverted, but with the level of success he’s having, he’s not forcing teams to re-think him or die of papercuts, and the Tigers are managed by someone who can be a bit stubborn.
Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com
Hayes was getting some blowback on Twitter for his piece, as if the work he had done asking Dunn about his approach then verifying it with data had been proven wrong somehow. That’s discouraging for a number of reasons, but it also marks a refutation to an assertion that any story about adjustments or progress or a hot stretch isn’t really making. There’s not a magic fix waiting to be found for most ballplayers. Matt Thornton‘s one side session with Don Cooper is mythologized for a reason: because it doesn’t happen and it shouldn’t be expected
Even though the adjustments Dunn makes are real and significant and worth tracking, they are occurring out of necessity and there is always going to be a limit to how much he can outrun the very clear declines in skill. From the way things look now, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be able to outrun it very far at all.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan