Two months ago at Baseball Nation, my colleague Rob Neyer wrote: "Adam Dunn's Mysterious Slide Will End".
Since the date (June 27) of that feature on the White Sox DH's inexplicable drop into awfulness this season, Dunn has hit .152/.263/.250 with four home runs and 11 RBI in 38 games. Before that, Dunn had hit .173/.308/.316 with seven home runs and 29 RBI in 68 games. Overall, Dunn's triple slash line sits at .165/.292/.292, a stunning drop from his .250/.381/.521 in nine National League seasons before joining the White Sox on a four-year, $56 million free-agent deal last winter.
Dunn's slide has not ended. It has gotten markedly worse. We have now, however, reached the point in the season -- just 34 games remain for the White Sox -- where Dunn's season goes from a curiosity to a possible record-breaker.
Rob Deer was an outfielder/DH, mostly for the Brewers and Tigers, in the late 1980s and early '90s. Like Dunn, he hit for a low average, walked and struck out a lot, and hit a fair number of home runs. In 1991, though, this odd combination reached absurd levels. In 539 plate appearances -- more than enough to qualify for the batting title -- Deer hit 25 home runs, walked 89 times, and hit .179. That's the lowest batting average for any qualifying batter since 1900.
As the White Sox begin a series in Seattle Friday night, Dunn has 431 plate appearances, 71 short of qualifying. Even if manager Ozzie Guillen holds Dunn out against lefthanded pitching (a wise idea, given that Dunn is 3-for-81, all singles, vs. LHP), he'd still start 24 games, presuming the White Sox face the same percentage of LH starters they have up to now (28%) the rest of the year.
Dunn has averaged slightly more than four plate appearances per game this season. If we assume he'd start 24 times and do that, he'd have 96 PA. Through Wednesday, 16% of Dunn's PA have not been official AB (walks, HBP, sacrifice flies), so let's assume that pace continues. That would give him 81 official at-bats from now through the end of the season.
Dunn would have to have 20 hits in those 81 at-bats (.247) to avoid breaking Deer's record. If he did that, his final season batting average would be .180 (80-for-444).
But there is nothing in Dunn's performance so far this year that suggests he will hit .247 over a month's worth of playing time. Sure, his career numbers suggest that -- he was a .250 lifetime hitter before 2011 -- but in his "best" month (May) this season, he hit .204 (19-for-93). Even in his "best" stretch of about that many at-bats at any time this season -- from April 25 through May 22 -- he hit .225 (20-for-89).
FanGraphs, using the ZiPS projection system, gives Dunn a bit more playing time the rest of the year -- 122 plate appearances -- but even they don't give him much of a shot at avoiding setting this dubious mark; they've got him at .218 the rest of the year, which would have him finish with a .172 batting average, still breaking Deer's mark with seven points to spare.
The White Sox are fading out of contention in the AL Central, currently seven games behind the Tigers in third place. Friday morning, the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh suggested that Ozzie Guillen bench Dunn for the rest of the season and play someone else -- essentially, anyone else at DH.
Ozzie's not likely to do that. Dunn seems destined to get at least the 71 PA he needs to qualify for the batting title. And if he does, he's almost certain to relegate Rob Deer to second place in the worst-batting-average record book.