Adam Dunn is a statistical marvel. The only other player that has as many statistical anomalies is Juan Pierre. And the weird thing is that they are polar opposites as hitters. Dunn has a low contact percentage and a high homer and walk percentage. Pierre has a high contact percentage and the lowest homer and a low walk percentage. But I’ve already studied Juan Pierre, so this post deals with Adam Dunn. And yes, he bounced back a bit from his historically bad 2011, but that doesn’t mean that his 2012 wasn’t statistically amazing as well. Dunn is fascinating in so many ways that he is a category all by himself. There is no one else like him in baseball.
First, let’s start out looking at his entire career, which started in 2001. What I have done is limit all players since 2001 to those who have had at least 6,000 plate appearances. There are 38 players who fit that category. Dunn’s place among these players is totally unique. Then I will look at his last three years, two of which have been somewhat acceptable and one that was historically bad.
Of the 38 players that have accumulated 6,000 plate appearances since Adam Dunn started his career, Adam Dunn ranks near the top or bottom depending on the category. His .288 BABIP is the fourth lowest among all of those players. His 0.72 ground ball to fly ball ratio is the second lowest of them all and since fly balls usually lead to outs, that explains a lot when it comes to his BABIP.
However, his 22.0% homer to fly ball ratio is the second highest of all players in that category. Only A-Rod has been higher. So we have established that he hits a lot of fly balls and a lot of them go over the fence. But when they do not go over the fence, they do little else. Consider that his 33 sacrifice flies are the fourth lowest among these 38 players.
Then there is the times when he doesn’t put the ball in play. Of these 38 players, Adam Dunn has the highest walk rate at 16.2%. But he also has the highest strikeout percentage of 28.2%. His contact percentage of 70.8% is the lowest of the 38. As many people have mentioned, Adam Dunn is pretty much a three outcome player. He either hits a homer, walks or strikes out.
If we look at just the last three years, we have a larger pool of players to rate. I’ve let this list feature all batters with 2500 plate appearances and there are 103 of them. The results are still amazing.
He still leads in walk percentage at 15.9%. He comes in second behind Mark Reynolds in strikeout percentage at 30.2%. He comes in fourth in contact percentage at 70.5%. He comes in fourth lowest in ground ball to fly ball ratio at 0.71. His BABIP is the tenth lowest and his homer to fly ball percentage is second highest.
Now let’s look at just 2012. Adam Dunn’s walk percentage was the highest of all qualifying players. But so was his strikeout percentage. He had the second lowest batting average among qualifiers. He had the third lowest BABIP. He had the highest homer to fly ball ratio.
The thing that I always think about is why pitchers walk him so many darned times. Oh, I get that he has great plate discipline. But he also has the biggest strike zone. And he also has a low percentage of hurting you if you pitch to him. Say for example that pitchers walked him 50 less times. With a .204 batting average last year, he would have only gotten ten hits. Seventeen of those 50 at bats would be strikeouts. That means that 33 of those at bats would lead to contact (with a .240 BABIP, that leads to 8 hits). Of those 33 contacts, 14 would have been fly balls. Of those 14 fly balls, he would hit four more homers.
In other words, the odds are strongly in the favor of the pitcher if he made sure the outcome was that Adam Dunn did not walk those 50 times. Every time a pitcher walks Adam Dunn, I scratch my head. It does not make sense.
All of this conversation does not even take into account Adam Dunn’s base running and fielding. Fangraphs.com tallies 128.3 runs Dunn has cost his teams on defense. Baseball-reference.com is even harsher and puts that measure at -152 runs. Fangraphs.com indicates that he has cost his team 13.8 runs on the base paths. And as my buddy, @dkulich44, points out, this has been a late phenomenon in Dunn’s career. He was a decent base runner until 2008. Since that time, his base running has cost his teams 16.4 runs!
Adam Dunn is truly a statistical marvel. His career has been truly strange. His three-outcome plate appearances are truly unique and make it very confusing to put him in context in this generation of players.