What’s Wrong With Adam Dunn?

Dunn looks as happy as the fantasy owners with him on their teams.

Coming into the 2011 season, there was arguably no more consistent a player in all of major league baseball thanAdam Dunn. When it comes to fantasy baseball, there is perhaps nothing more treasured to owners than a player that provides constant and consistent numbers, year after year. In a game where player statistics can veer wildly from one extreme to another, fantasy baseball owners often appreciate the opportunity to take a break from rampant speculation and go with a sure thing. And there was no more of a sure thing than Adam Dunn as fantasy owners approached the draft table this year.
After hitting exactly 40 home runs each season from 2004 to 2008, Dunn then cranked out exactly 38 home runs in each of his next 2 seasons. Changing teams and home ballparks had no effect on his production as he left Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark (a great home run hitter’s park) for Arizona’s Chase Field (a good home run hitter’s park) before playing his home games at the more spacious Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. With 81 home games looming at home run hitter’s paradise, Chicago’sU.S. Cellular Field, it looked like Dunn was going to easily repeat with another 40 home run season.
Also, having signed to be the White Sox designated hitter meant no more patrolling the outfield for Dunn, meaning he could concentrate solely on offense. This shaped up to be a perfect situation as Dunn certainly brought a prodigious amount of offense to the game (and precious little defence). In the modern “Moneyball statistical era, hitters like Dunn are the highest commodity possible. Dunn’s prodigious walk totals, extra base power and lack of speed make him the ideal player for the strategic model put forth in Michael Lewis’ book.

As of July 22, Dunn has hit a grand total of 9 home runs to put him in a tie for 50th in the American League in that statistical category. His 36 RBI rank 61st in the Junior Circuit. Dunn has never been one to produce an impressive batting average throughout his career, but a slash line of .163/.291/.301 is an abysmal offensive output by anyone’s standards. Consider his league-leading 125 strikeouts and you are looking at a season of epic proportions…. literally. The all-time worst batting average (among those with enough at bats to qualify) is Rob Deer, who hit a paltry .179 in 1991. Dunn would need to hit .210 the rest of the way to avoid Deer’s record. That doesn’t seem like much unless you consider the fact that it means he will need to achieve a whopping 47 point increase in his current average. The all-time American League record for strikeouts in a season is 197 (set by Jack Cust in 2008). Dunn is currently on pace to eclipse that record as well with a projected 205 Ks.

So where did it all go wrong? Some have suggested that becoming a full time DH has caused Dunn to falter at the plate. Never one to be confused with Willie Mays in the outfield, it is hard to believe Dunn has let his lack of playing in the field affect him so markedly. Others may point to the fact that the steroid era has led many to believe that a player who experiences a precipitous drop in power stats must have recently stopped taking steroids. There is also the fact that players decline as they age and some drop off astoundingly quickly (Dale Murphy comes to mind).

Regardless of the reason for his stunning collapse, Dunn is in the midst of a historic season. Whether or not he ends up setting records for most strikeouts, worst batting average or worst slugging percentage is yet to be seen. The one thing that is certain is that Dunn holds the record for most fantasy baseball seasons decimated by a single player. Just ask his owners.

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