Adam Dunn may finally be appreciated

Washington Nationals’ first baseman Adam Dunn may be making himself more attractive to other teams. And it really isn’t due to anything he is controlling.

While no one disputes Dunn’s power, those who use a more traditional approach in judging a player’s value have often focused on his numerous strikeouts and low batting average to conclude that his prodigious power does not make up for those deficiencies. On the other hand, more progressive evaluators have noticed that Dunn still scores around 100 runs every season because he draws a lot of walks and gets on base, which of course offsets the high number of strikeouts and low batting average.

It seems that general managers have felt that Dunn’s low average, as well as his questionable defense, have relegated him to salaries that, while very respectable, pale when compared to name sluggers with similar styles. Such as the Phillies’ first baseman Ryan Howard, for instance.

That all could change starting in 2011, as Dunn’s recent good fortune could net him a small fortune in the form of a new long term deal.

Dunn will end this season as a free agent and looks like he’s positioned himself for a handsome new contract going forward. While his last deal with the Nationals reflected front office reservations from many teams when he signed for two years at $20 million in February of 2009, his work as a National may be setting him up for quite a raise. Dunn has posted a .270/.384/.539 line since 2009 that, given other contemporary free agent contracts, is quite a nice return on the money. It’s also a batting line that’s potentially more appealing than his career numbers to a wider range of suitors.

Because of his recent production and a contract that expires at the end of the year, he’s reportedly on the wish list of several teams, mostly American League contenders like the Rays, White Sox, and Yankees, as a trade deadline acquisition. But, as attractive as Dunn is for teams looking for a big bat, those interested in both the short and long term should bear in mind that Dunn’s nice batting average this season (.275) is bolstered by a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .353 that’s about 60 points over his career norm in that category.

This is not to say that Dunn doesn’t provide an impact bat from the left side. But, teams tempted to offer big time prospects before the deadline or big money in the offseason should probably not base the size of the investment on the past two seasons with Washington, and expect him to hit .275. He’s actually walking five percent fewer times this season than he has in his career, which makes his benefit from the extra hits dropping in even more dramatic.

Since his Line Drive percentage seems in line with the rest of his career, the fear here is that with a few more hard hit balls finding defenders’ gloves, Dunn could see his average for the rest of the season drop back down around .240. If his walk rate holds at his 2010 level, his on-base percentage could slip, reducing one of his most valuable assets. An even bigger fear, and one that factors far more for long term purposes, would be that the high BABIP is masking a decline in his skills. Since Dunn has what some call “old man skills” (the ability to hit for power and take a free pass), a decrease in the latter would certainly be cause for concern for those that may be considering offering a long term contract.

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  1. D Leaberry said...

    Although the Nats fans appreciate Adam Dunn, General Manager Rizzo and the team ownership, the Lerner family, are ready to dump him just like they did Matt Capps last night.  Dunn will likely be gone within 72 hours and the Nats will sink for another three years of aimless futility.  Count me as an angry Nats fan who plans to dump the Nats.

  2. Steven Booth said...

    Funny, but with Strasberg, they are almost approaching respectability, rising up from Pirates/Royals doldrums. Seems to me it is the time for Nats management to do a little more building and try to keep a guy like Dunn, and who knows next year, with the ups and downs of some of these other teams in the NLEast, they could make it interesting.

  3. Jeffrey Gross said...

    At this point in the game, nobody doubts Dunn’s offensive prowess. It’s the glove that’s holding him back.

    Here is a quick trivia question to ask yourself BEFORE looking: from 2006-2009, how many seasons was Dunn worth +2 (or more) WAR?

  4. David Wade said...

    Zero because of the outfield D?  (Not looking, but my gut tells me he hurt teams far more in LF than he does at 1B)

    I briefly had noted his poor defense and lack of speed at one point in the post, and should have left it in.  Because you’re right- that has likely effected interest in him as well, though I still think the Ks and low AVG have played a pretty big role.

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