Exit Interviews: Adam Dunn
This was a better year than others. // Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.
The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.
Adam Dunn – Emblem of franchise disappointment and simultaneously the team’s best hitter. Fix this, Avisail.
Age by 2014 Opening Day: 34
Contract: One more year at $15 million.
Relevant stats: MLB: 149 games, 607 plate appearances, .219/.320/.442, 105 wRC+, 12.5 BB%, 31.1 K%, .223 ISO, somehow committed eight errors at first base. Defensive metrics hated him at first base, as did I.
Interpretation: One-tool players can be useful. “Starts over 140 games and plays in the field half of the time” is not one of those ways. If the White Sox weren’t such a blimp crash, or if Dunn hadn’t been so dreadful in 2011, we’d talk more about how this season stunk.
Emblematic split: Dunn hit .250/.354/.469 after the first two months. Those first two months, though….holy macaroni.
Pre-season expectations: I was pretending to have hope, but I was lying:
"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."
"“The first thing that comes to mind is disappointing,” he said. “The way that I have done personally and more importantly the way we have finished last three years now. Most of that is on me.”"
Adam’s story: Let us not forget that this season began with ambition.
Despite a huge rebound from looking like a drunk otter for most of 2011, Adam Dunn was unsatisfied with his still-worrisome 2012 strikeout rate, his declining on-base percentage, and other traces of rot in his game, and resolved to try a (not that) new, more aggressive approach.
And then there was bloodshed.
The failure of Dunn’s efforts to pump up his batting average by swinging earlier in the count was so immediate, obvious and massive that writers both local and national were gawking and pointing at it like it was a burning high-rise after just two weeks of play. After 18 games, Dunn had struck out 27 times in 73 plate appearances and reached base just 10 times. A new adjustment was needed.
Dunn embraced walking again, but was still slumming it with a sub-.700 OPS into June before successfully implementing another overdue adjustment meant to alleviate the violence infield shifts had done to his offensive production. Dunn became dedicated to flipping the ball to left field when the opportunity offered itself, and since dinks and dunks leave the park in U.S. Cellular, Dunn reverting to a dink-and-dunk approach didn’t have much effect on his power production.
From the start of June to his sad high point of the season, Dunn carved out a .304/.414/.549 batting line, with a reduced strikeout rate and a reasonable level of batted ball luck that was inevitable until defenses adjusted to his new style. For his work, Dunn was championed as the successful executor of a late-career adjustment, a victor over the villainy of the extreme infield shift. His conquest of struggles that nearly ended his baseball life was the feel-good story of the year.
But as the past three years have continuously revealed, the circumstances that have produced the Adam Dunn White Sox nightmare are too multi-tiered to ever be felled by a simple fix. Dunn hit .139/.220/.325 over his final 33 games and struck out an incomprehensible 54 times over his last 127 plate appearances. He ended the season as brutally lost as any stretch of his White Sox career, yet depressingly still hung to finish with the best batting line of any full-time White Sox starter. He hit 34 home runs but didn’t even slug .450. The enduring force of his one skill while EVERY single other ability falls into the sea is kind of a fun thing to gawk at, but we could still gawk at it if he were on the Blue Jays.
In the mean time, though hitting is obviously the only thing Dunn could do that we would ever care about, he was a very big man playing a game that occasionally asks its players to run as fast as they can around the bases, and he played first base like someone who was pushed to first base out of necessity, not because he has any ability that makes him appealing to the position. He does not have a great feel for picking grounders at their ideal moment, he lacks soft hands, but he is an enormous target and probably more fun to throw to than Brent Lillibridge.
Assessment: We’re cha-aaaaiiiinnned We’re cha-aaaaiiin-aaaiinnned We’re chaai-aainnned.
Ever since 2011, Adam Dunn’s contract has seemed like a four-year burden that the White Sox had to grin and bear. With a single season left, trading him is a more realistic proposition than it ever has been before. But with his latest downturn, it would still be a blatant salary dump with nothing worthwhile coming back in return. The White Sox would need to be specifically motivated to replace Dunn with something to make the move, and 2014 does not seem like a year that will inspire that motivation.
If you plugged their numbers against opposite-handed pitching in 2013 into a 2014 platoon, a Dunn/Paul Konerko combination would be not that bad at all, with Konerko doing most of the exemplary work. But even hoping for Dunn to hold up a .786 OPS with the platoon advantage seems like idle fantasy. That’s how the last three years have gone.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan