If you were making a list of star players, from most likely to collapse in 2011 to least likely to collapse in 2011, wouldn't Adam Dunn have been very near the bottom of that list?
Dunn struck out four times Sunday, giving him an even -- and A.L.-leading -- 100 for the season. And among the "I hate strikeouts!" crowd, there is probably some subset of "I told you so!" throwers ... You can't count on a guy who strikes out that much!
Well, okay. Except Dunn's always struck out a lot (if not quite this much), but it's rarely kept him from being one of the more productive hitters in the National League. From 2004 through 2009, Dunn averaged 180 strikeouts per season ... along with 40 home runs and 101 RBI. But really, the averages are almost beside the point. Dunn has been, I am almost certain, the most consistent power in major-league history. After hitting 46 home runs in 2004, Dunn hit 40 homers in 2005 ... and 2006 ... and 2007 ... and 2008. In 2009, his homers dropped all the way to 38 ... and in 2010 -- when he struck out 199 times -- Dunn hit 38 home runs again.
You might not have enjoyed Dunn's Three True Outcomes style of hitting, but couldn't argue that he wasn't productive, and he was obviously consistent. Perhaps the most consistent.
Until this year.
Dunn entered 2011 with a .250/.381/.521 career line; right now he's sitting at .173/.308/.316.
Instead of hitting 40 (or 38) home runs and driving in 100 runs, he's on pace for 14 and 57.
Hardly what the White Sox were expecting when they signed Dunn for four years and $56 million.
Here's the weird thing, though (or not so weird, if you think Dunn is still the same player as before) ... When you drill into his numbers, you can't find anything truly amiss in Dunn's fundamental performance. His strikeouts are up, but not alarmingly so. His walks are down, but not alarmingly so. His line-drive, ground-ball, and fly-ball percentages are all right in line with his career marks.
So we know how he's hitting the baseball, and we know he's hitting it roughly the same as usual. What we (or I) don't know is how hard he's hitting it. We do know that his batting average on balls in play (BABiP) is just .262, about 30 points lower than his career mark. And we know that only 10 percent of his fly balls have carried the fence, which is less than half his career rate.
My guess is that Dunn really is struggling some, and just isn't the same hitter that he's been. Maybe it's physical, maybe it's mental, maybe it's facing tougher pitchers, maybe it's all of those things. But I suspect that bad luck has been Dunn's chief ill. I will not suggest that he's going to magically become his great-hitting self tomorrow, and will wind up once again among the game's most powerful sluggers. I will suggest that Dunn finishes this season with 25-30 home runs. And does become himself next season.
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