In 2011, the White Sox' Adam Dunn came within six plate appearances of entering the record books for a number of worsts for anyone who qualified for the batting title. His manager, Ozzie Guillen, held him out of some late-season games, apparently having a bit of mercy on the struggling slugger.
This season, having performed some sort of magical transformation during the offseason, or maybe just because he's been healthy (last year's appendectomy might have had more of an effect on Dunn's 2011 than he thought at the time), Dunn is back among the league leaders in home runs and RBI, just as he was for many years in the National League.
It's not just Dunn, either, as Benjamin Hoffman notes in the New York Times:
In numbers that seem straight out of the steroids era, 10 batters were on pace for 40 or more home runs entering Wednesday’s games. Another five were on pace for 35 or more. Both would be the highest totals since 2006 and would crack baseball’s top-10 seasons.
Last season two players surpassed 40 home runs and six others topped 35.
There is, of course, a price to be paid for all of this, and as Hoffman points out, it's strikeouts:
Batters over all are averaging 8.64 hits a game, the lowest average since 1989, and are striking out a record 7.42 times a game.
It might seem as if Dunn is responsible for all of those, but of course, he's not. What Dunn is, however, is on pace to not only break the single-season strikeout record, but shatter it. The current record of 223 was set by Mark Reynolds, while he was with the Diamondbacks in 2009. Through Wednesday, Dunn had played in all 81 White Sox games and struck out 127 times -- an average of 1.567 per game. That would translate to 254 K's in 162 games and break the record by 31, or almost 14 percent.
Doing that would be like a home-run hitter hitting 83 home runs, or a base-stealer swiping 148 bases, or someone hitting in 64 straight games. Obviously, those would be ridiculous, but those are all 14 percent above the current record, demonstrating how ridiculous Dunn's K mark will be (I say "will be" because barring injury, there's almost no way he doesn't do it).
The march toward this record has been remarkably consistent. Dunn has struck out in 73 of his 81 games (all but two of them in the starting lineup, and he struck out in one of his two pinch-hit at-bats). He's struck out at least three times in a game 11 times, and three of those are "Golden Sombrero" days (four K's). In his eight no-K games, Dunn has hit .450/.656/1.150 (9-for-20 with four home runs and 12 walks).
But it's the K's that we should keep an eye on as the season progresses. Dunn isn't in the lineup for Wednesday's game in Chicago (probably because of a forecast high temperature of 106 degrees), but if he keeps up his current pace, he'll break Reynolds' mark sometime during a weekend series the White Sox play in Minnesota beginning September 14.
Dunn would probably rather we remember that despite the strikeouts, he's still been a productive player this season; in addition to the home runs, he's leading the major leagues in walks beginning Thursday's action with 66, and despite a sickly .213 batting average, his on-base percentage of .362 ranks 17th in the AL and his .518 slugging percentage is 15th. Dunn's resurgence from his horrific 2011 is one of the key reasons the White Sox hold first place in the AL Central.
As the season continues, though, what'll get a lot of attention is the strikeouts.