Despite spending most of the season in first place, the White Sox eventually fell short of a division title after a late-season collapse. Which player best epitomized this ultimately disappointing season?
The 2012 Chicago White Sox were coming off a losing season, with a new manager who had literally never managed a single professional baseball game at any level. A recipe for disaster, right? Well, it was hardly a disaster. Instead, they spent more than two-thirds of the season in first place, and when September dawned they looked like a really good bet to win the American League Central.
They didn't, of course. And their top competition for that title is now favored to win the World Series. So which White Sox player best symbolizes what was, in the end, a disappointing season?
In 2011, Adam Dunn was sort of historically terrible. He didn't quite reach 502 plate appearances, so fell short of qualifying for any sort of official list of terrible things. But his .159 batting average was (and is) the lowest in major-league history among players with at least 450 plate appearances. The lowest by a lot. But with Dunn signed for a lot of money through 2014, the White Sox had little choice but to send him out there again in 2012 and hope for the best.
How fantastic was Dunn's comeback? Just one season removed from his disastrous campaign, Dunn made the American League All-Star team. Granted, he was batting just .208 at the All-Star break and probably didn't deserve his slot. But it was still one hell of a comeback, and Dunn was one of the reasons the White Sox, instead of the heavily favored Tigers, spent most of the first half of the season in first place.
The truth, though, is that Dunn did not play particularly well in 2012. He did hit 41 home runs, and he did lead the American League with 105 walks. He also batted just .204 and led the American League with 222 strikeouts. His 112 OPS+ ranked just fourth on the White Sox, and according to Wins Above Replacement Dunn was just the eighth-best hitter on the club.
But none of this, in itself, makes Adam Dunn the White Sox' Player of the Year. No, it's what happened in September.
At the All-Star break, the White Sox owned a three-game lead over the second-place Indians, with the third-place (but heavily favored) Tigers a half-game behind the Indians. There were some ups downs over the next couple of months, of course. But after beating the Royals on the 18th of September, the White Sox still had a three-game lead; this time over the Tigers, with the Indians long out of contention.
Twelve games later, the White Sox were three games behind the Tigers. They'd lost 10 of those 12 games, during which Adam Dunn went 5 for 43 with two home runs and four RBI. Both home runs and all four RBI came in one game, a 5-4 win against the Indians. So you might say that Dunn won that one almost singlehandedly.
But he did virtually nothing to help the White Sox in those 10 losses, which sealed his club's fate. Dunn was terrible in 2011, and the White Sox went 79-83. Dunn was decent in 2012, and the White Sox went 85-77. These facts were related. Opening Day of 2013 is still a long way away. But Adam Dunn will earn $15 million next year, and another $15 million the year after that. He will play. And as he goes, so might go the White Sox. Again.
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.