042109-208_adam_dunn

Swinging For A Contract, Dunn’s New Approach At The Plate This Season

Adam Dunn’s talent has long been a divisive issue. Some have looked at his high strikeout totals, and traditionally low batting average, and written him off. Others have pointed to his on base percentage, and his true-outcome totals, and said he’s a Renascence Man. Yet despite how he has been perceived throughout his nine-year career, one thing everyone has agreed on has been his consistency in his output and his approach, that is, until now.

If the season ended today Adam Dunn would have, by far, the highest batting average in a single season in his career. At .281 he is batting 30 points above his career average of .251, yet despite his improved contact with the bat, Dunn’s on base percentage is 30 points lower than it was just last season.

Why? The answer is, Adam Dunn is swinging more…much, more.  Perhaps even, swinging for a contract.

In 2009 Dunn had a BB% of 17.4%. Walking was his calling card, he was a man who would swing and miss a lot, but he made sure the pitches he was swinging at were his pitches. That number is down to 11.4% this season. With only 46 walks on the year, Dunn is on pace to finish with less than 100 walks for the first time since 2003 when he only played in 116 games.

At first look one might think that maybe he is just being more aggressive early in the count, which could result in his improved batting average while seeing his walk rate go down. However the data shows that Dunn is instead chasing far more pitches. His career O-Swing% (pitches he swings at outside the strike zone) is 17.9 percent, this year his O-Swing% is 28.7%! Almost 38 percent higher than his career average, meaning Dunn is swinging

It’s not that Dunn’s judgment has gone out the window either, his swinging at 68.2% of pitches in the strike zone too, by far the highest mark of his career. In general he is swinging 45.6% of the time total, which is up from his 40.8% career mark.

So why after a stellar 10 year career is Dunn completely changing his approach at the plate, the one thing that made him truly unique? Like most things in this game, my guess is that it was about “the Benjamin’s.”

When Dunn hit free agency in 2008, he was a well renowned slugger who had hit 40-or-more homers for six straight years, and was only 29. He constantly was near the league lead in on base percentage, and posted an OPS above .900 four times in the past six years. He expected that with those accolades that he would come out of the 2008 winter a rich man.

Things didn’t work out so well. While teams went crazy for fellow free-agent slugger Mark Texiera, who ultimately signed a $180 million contract, Dunn, who had arguably better numbers, had to settle in February with the Nationals for just two years at $20 million.

Could it have been that his high strikeout total and low batting average turned teams off in 2008? Could it be that Adam Dunn, knowing this was his last chance at a big time free-agent contract decided to transform his game to appeal to the masses? To have a high batting average and less strikeouts, while sacrificing his ability to get on base at a super-high rate?Adam Dunn’s talent has long been a divisive issue. Some have looked at his high strikeout totals, and traditionally low batting average, and written him off. Others have pointed to his on base percentage, and his true-outcome totals, and said he’s a renascence man. Yet despite how he has been perceived throughout his nine-year career, one thing everyone has agreed on has been his consistency in his output and his approach, that is, until now.

If the season ended today Adam Dunn would have, by far, the highest batting average in a single season in his career. At .281 he is batting 30 points above his career average of .251, yet despite his improved contact with the bat, Dunn’s on base percentage is 30 points lower than it was just last season.

Why? The answer is, Adam Dunn is swinging more…much, more.  Perhaps even, swinging for a contract.

In 2009 Dunn had a BB% of 17.4%. Walking was his calling card, he was a man who would swing and miss a lot, but he made sure the pitches he was swinging at were his pitches. That number is down to 11.4% this season. With only 46 walks on the year, Dunn is on pace to finish with less than 100 walks for the first time since 2003 when he only played in 116 games.

At first look one might think that maybe he is just being more aggressive early in the count, which could result in his improved batting average while seeing his walk rate go down. However the data shows that Dunn is instead chasing far more pitches. His career O-Swing% (pitches he swings at outside the strike zone) is 17.9 percent, this year his O-Swing% is 28.7%! Almost 38 percent higher than his career average, meaning Dunn is swinging

It’s not that Dunn’s judgment has gone out the window either, his swinging at 68.2% of pitches in the strike zone too, by far the highest mark of his career. In general he is swinging 45.6% of the time total, which is up from his 40.8% career mark.

So why after a stellar 10 year career is Dunn completely changing his approach at the plate, the one thing that made him truly unique? Like most things in this game, my guess is that it was about “the Benjamin’s.”

When Dunn hit free agency in 2008, he was a well renowned slugger who had hit 40-or-more homers for six straight years, and was only 29. He constantly was near the league lead in on base percentage, and posted an OPS above .900 four times in the past six years. He expected that with those accolades that he would come out of the 2008 winter a rich man.

Things didn’t work out so well. While teams went crazy for fellow free-agent slugger Mark Texiera, who ultimately signed a $180 million contract, Dunn, who had arguably better numbers, had to settle in February with the Nationals for just two years at $20 million.

Could it have been that his high strikeout total and low batting average turned teams off in 2008? Could it be that Adam Dunn, knowing this was his last chance at a big time free-agent contract decided to transform his game to appeal to the masses? To have a high batting average and less strikeouts, while sacrificing his ability to get on base at a super-high rate?

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