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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Breakout, Bust, or Rebound?: Part 1- Adam Dunn

To put things nicely, it is going to be very hard for anyone to be worse than Adam Dunn was in 2011.  I mean, he played 2/3 of the season and nearly lost three wins in value.  Many people who watched Adam Dunn last year felt that he simply looked disinterested, was late with his swing, and just didn't play like the old Adam Dunn had in the past.  Now, there are many theories that add into why Dunn performed so pathetically in 2011.  Some people believe he checked out after he cashed in on his big deal with the White Sox.  Others felt that the change in scenery simply wasn't good for him.  Some individuals believed it was attitude, and they even suggested that Dunn may consider retirement at the rather young age of 31 years old.  So why pick Dunn as a rebound candidate?  Well, I simply don't think his walk and strikeout rates deviated enough for him to really be that much worse than he was before, and unless he suddenly lost all of his strength, he's still one of the strongest men ever to play the game.  Now, since we have readers that are the evaluating types and others that are fantasy buffs, I'll look at Dunn's expected bounce back from both angles.

Real Life Value to the White Sox

Baseball is a game of rates, trends, and tendencies.  When analyzing statistics, it is very obvious in many cases when a guy has established himself in a certain aspect of his game.  For the sake of argument, we will focus on a few core rate stats that can be somewhat indicative of future performance or bad luck: BB%, K%, ISO, and BABIP.  Here are some numbers for Dunn:

2009: 17.4 BB%, 26.5 K%, .262 ISO, .324 BABIP
2010: 11.9 BB%, 30.7 K%, .276 ISO, .329 BABIP
2011: 15.1 BB%, 35.7 K%, .118 ISO, .240 BABIP

Career averages: 16.12 BB%, 27.6 K%, .259 ISO, .292 BABIP

Now, from this, there are a few things that can be pointed out:

1) Dunn's walk percentage has not greatly deviated from his career average, and in 2011 it was rather close to what it has been in the past.  He does not appear to be losing any more awareness of the strike zone.   This is seen in his plate discipline numbers on fangraphs. He didn't swing and miss at many more balls than he has in the past.  However, two consecutive years of a SwStr% (swing and miss percentage) that is higher than career norm is somewhat alarming.  Not a major cause for concern, in my opinion

2) There is an extremely alarming trend in Dunn's K%.  As he has grown older these last few years, he has seen a very rapid increase in his K% numbers.  Now, since he is not swinging and missing at many more balls (although he is swinging and missing at more), and is still drawing a good number of walks, I believe the best conclusion to reach is that he is being much too cutesy at the plate and isn't swinging at enough pitches.  Now, it is nice for power hitters to pick their spots to best utilize their power, but Dunn needs to get more aggressive at the plate.

3) Dunn's ISO (isolated power, or slugging without the singles) dropped over 150 points in one season.  That kind of drop is just absolutely ridiculous.  Now, a drop in ISO in no way means a loss in power.  It simply means that a hitter couldn't get an extra base hit to save his life.  So what happened to Dunn to make this happen?  Well, a statistic known as HR/FB rate answers that question.  Dunn's career norm?  21.4%.  His two years prior to 2011?  21.1 and 21.3.  His 2011 rate?  9.6%  Adam Dunn did not hit the ball into the seats in 2011 at all.  Now, I did not personally scout him throughout the year, but my best guess would be that he was sluggish with his swing and kept getting underneath the ball.  This would also help explain the severe drop in BABIP.  Considering Dunn's FB% stayed relatively similar to his career norm, this is the most likely scenario in my mind.

So what is to be expected from Dunn in 2012?  Bill James answers that question pretty well, I believe.  He projects Dunn to get his BABIP and ISO much closer to his career norms, along with dropping the K rate down to 32.4% while upping his walk rate to basically his career average of 16.2%.  What does this mean for his overall numbers?

.220 BA/ .355 OBP/ .443 SLG/ .349 wOBA (roughly a 110-115 wRC+)

In non-nerd speak, this prediction expects Dunn to be just worse than average as a first baseman offensively.  It's hard for anyone to simply say that Dunn will bounce back to career norms due to being on the wrong side of 30, but it's darn near impossible to expect him to be as bad value wise as he was in in 2011.

Fantasy Value

Dunn's 2011 core offensive fantasy output:

.159 BA/ 36 Runs/ 11 HR/ 42 RBI/ 0 SB

Nobody is going to want to jump all over Dunn in fantasy this year, and that is perfectly expected.  Dunn is a full time DH, so he's going to be tabbed as a permanent utility (UTIL) player for a potential roster spot.  Personally, I would be all over Adam Dunn as a late sleeper in this draft, depending on where fantasy companies like Yahoo! rate him to start the fantasy stuff in February.  Depending on the size of the league, Dunn could either be drafted late or even signed early on in the season as an undrafted free agent.  I made the mistake of taking Dunn in my competitive 2011 draft, and of course I regret the decision in hindsight.  However, let's not forget what Dunn is capable of as a fantasy player.  In the two years prior to 2011, he averaged:

.264 BA/ 83 Runs/ 38 HR/ 104 RBI/ 0 SB

Who does not want that kind of production on their team?  Heck, who doesn't want what would be the equivalent of 75% of that production on their team?  BTW, that would be roughly:

.200 BA/ 63 Runs/ 29 HR/ 78 RBI/ 0 SB

Save the batting average, which likely will be higher than the .200 if BABIP rates return to norm, those are some pretty darn worthwhile numbers to have at least on the bench.  And if he gets hot, we're talking home runs and RBI in bunches.  And let's not forget, Dunn is going to be hitting behind Paul Konerko, who has gotten on base roughly 39% of the time each of the last two years.  There is a lot of potential for production with Dunn going into 2012.  Where would I take him?  Hopefully no earlier than the 14th round.    If memory serves correctly, I was able to grab David Ortiz in the 11th or 12th round of a very competitive 12 team league last year after he had a couple of rather lackluster years by Ortiz standards.  He exploded back to his career norms, and had a great season.  Like Dunn, Ortiz had seen steadily increasing K rates prior to 2011 (disclaimer, his walk rate, ISO, and BABIP had almost no variation at all).  Thing to remember here is that a Designated Hitter only has to focus on hitting.  Adam Dunn has been VERY good at doing that in the past.  This is why he is absolutely a rebound candidate for 2012.  If you've taken pitching early along with a couple solid bats, Dunn is a great guy to look for in the late rounds.  Many people are going to overreact to his historically bad season, and he definitely won't be a hot commodity.  However, there are going to be people out there who are thinking like me and will be searching for him.  If he's there in round 14, snatch him up.  Yes, that could be a little early and could backfire, but it's a 14th round pick.  In fantasy baseball, missing on your 14th round pick isn't going to hurt you.  Take the risk with Dunn, because the value you could get with him in the 14th is potentially huge.  He may be a swing and a miss (bad Dunn pun), but he may also be one of the top 10 picks of your draft.

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