The Dayton Daily News adds some fuel to the fire on the issue of Adam Dunn and his alarming number of Ks. This issue is number four on Hal McCoy’s list of questions to be answered this spring.

Can new batting instructor Brook Jacoby find a way to cut down Adam Dunn’s strikeouts and convince him to cut down his swing, especially with two strikes?

Asked if Dunn’s strikeouts are a concern, Jacoby said: “Any time somebody strikes out 195 times, 168 times and 194 times in a three-year span, it’s a concern.” Narron says: “People tend to concentrate on what a player can’t do as to what he can do, and Dunn does a lot for this team.”

But not putting the ball in play 194 times a year is way more than once a game. This is not a concern, it’s a confirmed habit.

Everyone knows it would be great if Dunn could cut his Ks down dramatically, start using the whole field, resulting in him upping his BA and RBI production. The question is, can he make this change while maintaining his BB rate, his outstanding OBP, and his great SLG? I think that if Dunn was able to successfully alter his approach that he would be able to maintain his OBP and SLG, and this would place Dunn in the same category as Albert Pujols as one of the very best hitters in the game.

But at the same time, like Jerry Narron suggests above, I’m not ready to dismiss what Adam Dunn does for this team offensively now, with his current approach. As Paul Schaffer claims in todays Dayton Daily News, players who strike out a lot can be darn good.

Baseball is filled with truisms passed down through the generations. These truisms often become gospel to casual fans, and even to hall-of-famers such as Mike Schmidt, who should really know better.

In a recent interview with our Hal McCoy, Schmidt singled out Adam Dunn and Pat Burrell for that horrible transgression: striking out too much. A strikeout is awful, you know. It offends the baseball gods, who shower glory on “good baseball guys” who “play the game the right way.”

Whatever that means.

Of course, a strikeout isn’t a desired outcome, but it is not as terrible as old-school baseball guys would have us believe.

Here’s a list of the top nine hitters in the National League in striking out in 2006: Adam Dunn (194), Ryan Howard (181), Bill Hall (162), Alfonso Soriano (160), Jason Bay (156), Mike Cameron (142), Austin Kearns (135), Jeff Francoeur (132) and Chase Utley (132).

Those nine hitters averaged 35 home runs, 101 runs, 100 RBIs, roughly a .360 on-base percentage and a .524 slugging percentage.

Yeah, that offense sure stinks.

So the lesson here, kids, is that strikeouts aren’t great, but they aren’t the end of the world — and don’t believe everything a “baseball guy” tells you, even if he is a hall-of-famer.

I’m hoping this article may help enlighten some of the casual fans who see Dunn’s strikeouts as his biggest downfall. Surely they give him room for improvement, but they don’t decrease his value near as much as some of the announcers and writers would have you believe. I believe Dunn’s defense in the OF is his biggest hole in his game right now. Hopefully we will start seeing more articles spelling out what Dunn does for the team, 100 Rs (.380 OBP) and 100 RBIs (.513 SLG) per year, and less of what people wish he’d done for the team.

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26 Responses

  1. blindfish

    It’s funny how a few years ago the baseball experts all decided that OPS was the most important offensive stat. For some reason that doesn’t apply to Dunn. A strikeout may be spectacular, the same way that a slam dunk is, but ultimately it’s just worth one out the same way that dunk is still just worth two points.

    The bright side to Dunn’s strikeouts is that he sees a lot of pitches. I think he is in the top few in the league in pitches seen per at bat. Of course the downer is that he is virtually incapable of moving runners over.

    Of course the fielding is a bummer, but the strikeouts don’t bother me. What concers me offensively about Dunn though is his poor batting average with RISP. But that doesn’t make a good story.

  2. josh

    I still do not care how many times he strikes out swinging, it’s all the times he watches strike three go by because it’s no exactly where he wants it. that bothers me. He’s still looking for a pitch he can hit out of the park, when he should be just trying to put the bat on the ball when he has 2 strikes on him. He’s strong enough that I think he’d hit 10 more HR’s a year if he just took a rip at some of those called third strikes.

  3. Chris

    Read Ted Williams’ hitting book. Rule 1 is “get a good pitch to hit.” There’s nothing in there about “with 2 strikes, forget about Rule 1, and just get a pitch that you can put wood on.”

    Though I think that is in Eckstein’s book.

  4. Bill

    Dunn’s BA is bad with RISP…but look at his overall numbers in that situation. In ’06, .246/.394/.529 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with RISP. RISP/2outs, .246/.410/.554 and close and late .237/.389/.474.

    Not exactly an out machine…

  5. al

    it’s going to take some time, but eventually, the “baseball people” of the world will realize that how often a player makes an out, and what a player does when they don’t get out is a lot more important for an offense than what they do when they make an out. it’s just common sense, but it seems to have eluded the baseball pundits for a long time.

    that said, dunn needs some help, he’s got a long way to go before he’s an elite offensive producer. he does get caught looking all the time, and he gets embarassed by the shift. to me, if the other team can put five guys on the right side, and you’re not david ortiz, you’re doing something wrong.

  6. David

    Tom’s following statement concerns me: “I’m hoping this article may help enlighten some of the casual fans… [and his Ks] don’t decrease his value near as much as some of the announcers and writers would have you believe.” That presumes 1) that only the casual fan is concerned by his strikeout rate 2) announcers and sports writers – paid for their oppinions mind you – are as unenlightened as the “casual fan.”

    Nevertheless, I’ve not posted much on Dunn because I think it is a moot point. Unless the Reds are ready to shell out 13 million a year in a long term deal, Dunn will not be a Redleg much longer. In fact, unless the Reds are fully in contention by the trade deadline – which most commentators don’t seem to think is a legit idea – I don’t see Dunn finishing the year in Cincinnati. Joel Sherman of the New York post, another unenlightened sports writer, tends to agree with me, the casual fan.

  7. blindfish

    If we trade Dunn this summer, then 2008 could shatter some all-time offensive futility records.

  8. dmcgee77

    A strikeout is not just another out. It’s a missed opportunity to put the ball into play. History shows that .290 of balls put in play result in the hitter reaching base. Even if a hitter doesnt reach base, he can move a runner over.
    Every great hitter has a respectable number of strike outs. But the great hitter also know how to adjust his swing with two strikes against him.
    It sounds like someone has filled Dunn’s head with all this “OPS is all that matters” stuff, and he doesn’t care about strike outs.
    He should care about strikeouts. He would have more homers and RBS’s and a better BA and yes, better OPS, if he cared about strikeouts.
    I am not a casual observer.

  9. Chris

    Please point to the research you’re using to support your point, dmcgee. I’m interested in reading it.

  10. Chris

    By the way, you’re assuming that Dunn cuts down the strikeouts by swinging at more pitches, and using an “adjusted” (presumably a choke-up, defensive swing) with 2 strikes.

    Yet you’re assuming this results in more balls in play, more hits, yet no decrease in walks or HR – two things that almost always correlate with strikeouts. Going deep into counts, and having a big swing lead to walks, HR, and strikeouts.

    Everybody wants Dunn to be Albert Pujols. Why not Joe DiMaggio, too?

  11. Chris

    By the way, Dunn hit 15 of his 40 HR with 2 strikes.

    He had 40 hits with 2 strikes, total – 15 HR and 6 doubles. That’s in 316 ABs, though.

    It’s an interesting phenomenon. With 2 strikes, Dunn really is the “all or nothing” player that people say he is.

    The question is whether he can succeed at trading half of those 15 HR (and several of the walks) for an extra 40 singles (which is about what it would take to even the production out).

  12. Y-City Jim

    I think many would be less critical of Dunn if he fielded his position well and didn’t look like he could stand to lose 20+ pounds.

  13. dmcgee77

    I took this quote from Baseball Prospectus’s glossary on BABIP: “A pitcher’s average on batted balls ending a plate appearance, excluding home runs. Based on the research of Voros McCracken and others…A typical BABIP is about .290.”

    Actually, if you add in homers and the hitter getting on base by error, the average goes even higher. Again, not to mention the value in the hitter moving runners up or getting a sacrifice fly.

    You seem to believe Dunn’s homer and walks will take a dive if he adjusts his swing with two strikes. I don’t agree with that assessment. A smart hitter knows how to foul off the tough pitches with two strikes against him. This increases the chances of the pitcher throwing a bad pitch (i.e. a ball out of the strike zone or a hittable pitch).

    If Dunn chokes up, he still has the power to hit the ball over the fence, maybe not a tape measure shot, but a percentage of his increased number of hits would be for extra bases.

  14. Chris

    Ok. A few things. First, McCracken’s work applies only to pitchers. That’s the whole point of his research – that pitchers have essentially no control over what happens on balls in play. Same rules don’t apply to hitters.

    Two, there’s very little value to moving runners up, and it’s almost never worth an out.

    Three, if you really believe hitters can intentionally foul off tough pitches, I have a bridge to sell you. That’s darn near impossible, even for pure bat control guys like Gwynn or Boggs.

  15. Mr. Redlegs

    Chris, hope that bridge you have for sale has good toll revenues.

    First, moving runners up is a critical aspect to baseball and has been for more than 100 years. To get the runner in a position to score on a hit or error instead of needing two hits, or avoiding a double play or losing that runner to a force out, is a hugely instrumental fundamental of the game.

    Secondly, there are many, many, many hitters who intentional foul off pitches. They work on it in BP all the time. Not only is fouling off not impossible, but it’s also a fundamental of hitting. They will flick off the pitch if they can’t put it into play and/or don’t want to take the pitch.

    In fact, Rose was one of the best at fouling off pitches. Boggs was incredible. He had such perfect eyesight that foul-offs were instinct. Gwynn had so much trouble with Greg Maddux that he went up as a “defensive” hitter, just fouling things off hoping for something he could put into play against Mad Dog.

    I often get a smile out of your counter-culture analyses, but there are times when you really, really need to spend more time with the live game and around the people who play and manage and coach on the professional level. This is obviously one of those times.

  16. preach

    Mr. R,

    I definately agree regarding moving runners up. It is fundemental. Especially in the NL. How often are rallies killed by a DP that could have been avoided by proper utilization of the “S” word….’sacrifice’. Also, those teams who are proficient in station to station play are the ones who are most effective in taking advantage of errors. That has to be good for a few wins every season. Do I have the stats to figure this out? No. But I’m sure its accurate. Heck, I am the first one to admit that I don’t know a VORP from a VIP, but I know that if you get out of a DP situation, you are far, far better off. If moving runners over is of little value, then what is the purpose of stealing a base? You are risking outs for bases, aren’t you? Maybe that’s not being considered as moving a runner over, but it is part of the game. Part of the threat in moving runners over is also to get inside the pitcher’s head to give him more to think about: what base to cover, who’s on first, if I charge the box will I get drilled by one coming back up the middle, etc. Let him think about it long enough and suddenly you will shoot a double in the gap and clear the bases. Sure, the stats won’t indicate that it was a result of ‘moving the runners over’ philosophy, but it’s still a result of the chess match due to that style of play. It all works together. If you are poor at moving runners over, you better have two or three 45 HR guys in your lineup, otherwise you will not score very often.

  17. dmcgee77

    Thank you Mr. Redlegs and Preach. I thought I was a lone voice in the wilderness.
    Let me add these points:
    1) The .290 BABIP applies to BOTH pitchers and hitters. As long as pitchers pitch to hitters and hitters hit against pitchers, the stat stands as a historic baseline average of what happens when a ball is put in play.

    2. If McCracken’s research concludes that pitchers have little control of balls in play, it also tells us that batters have MUCH MORE control of balls in play. Smart hitters know how to “hit it to where they ain’t.” Smart hitters know how to use the whole field, know how to adjust to the situation, know how to play the law of averages in their favor. Smart hitters don’t swing for the fences on a regular basis (maybe once in a while, when the odds favor them) and they don’t try to kill the ball or overswing. (Same, by the way, is true with golf).
    The law of reversed efforts tells us that a hitter like Dunn who tries to deposit each pitch into the Ohio River with the hope of someday reaching the shores of Kentucky, is going to end up with LESS homers, LESS RBI’s, and a STINKING LOW batting average. It’s simply the law of reversed efforts. “It’s elementary, Watson.”
    The worst case scenario is when a batter becomes SO PREDICTABLE that the opposite team puts the shift on him. They already know what he’s going to do before he does it. And smart pitchers learn to take advantage of the OBVIOUS. (i.e. strike outs increase, batting average plummets.)
    Pitchers who are hard-throwers need to adjust to survive in the majors. They need to become pitchers, not just throwers. The same is true for hard-hitting batters. They need to learn to make the adjustments.
    It’s sink or swim for Dunn. As long as he stubbornly listens to the “OPS only” crowd, his career will diminish. Sad but true.

  18. Mr. Redlegs

    The one irrevocable fact of baseball, time tested and historically accurate, is the game is a matter of constant adjustment by pitcher and hitter. Those who do, succeed. Those who don’t, end of up on the blogs with us.

    You can’t get much lower than that!

  19. Tom

    LESS homers, LESS RBI’s

    Less than what?

  20. dmcgee77

    Less homers, less RBI’s.

    Less than what he could achieve if he took a balanced and flexible approach to the game. I believe Dunn is capable of hitting .268 with 50 homers, 120 RBIs and 110 Ks. His walks would be slightly less, but his OPS would still be better than what it is now.

    All he has to do is be open to “constant adjustment” to borrow a phrase from Mr. Redlegs. I’m hoping and hoping some more that Brook Jacoby gets through to him this spring. There is HUGE upside for Dunn. But a little coachability on his part will go a long way.

  21. Tom

    That would be nice, he would definitely be one of the best in league if he did that. Plus we could use it, our offense could be very thin this year.

  22. Chris

    Who else is capable of such numbers (numbers, mind you, that have only been achieved by Albert Pujols)?

    By the way, I just googled “law of reversed efforts,” since I’d never heard of it. There were exactly two matches, in the entire googleverse, from the same nutbar website. I’m not trying to be a dick – just pointing out that what you claim to be an “elementary” rule of baseball doesn’t even exist.

  23. dmcgee77

    “The Law of Reversed Efforts” can also be called “The Law of Proportionate Polar Reversal” (look that one up on Google!)which basically states that too much of a good thing turns out bad.

    Another way to put it: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

    10 Examples:

    1)The guy who tries so hard to get a girlfriend ends up with none.
    2)The guy who tries hardest to impress his boss is most likely to get on his nerves.
    3)The guy who is desperate to succeed in business runs the greatest risk of going bankrupt.
    4)The guy who wants all the attention at a party ends up being ignored.
    5)The guy who wants everyone to like him is most often ridiculed.
    6)The guy who speeds down the highway at 90 MPH gets pulled over.
    7)The guy who is most determined to take over the board in a game of Risk is the first to be eliminated.
    8)The guy who in golf tries to drive the ball 300 yards, ends up missing the ball or dribbling it a few feet off the tee.
    9)The guy who swings for the fences most often in baseball leads the league in strikeouts.
    10)The pitcher who throws hardest is first in line for Tommy John surgery.

  24. Chris

    Google zeroed on that one, too. But if that’s the rule, it’s nonsense. It’s fatalism, and argues that our efforts are less than meaningless, they’re inherently counter-productive. I understand the gut appeal of the “law,” because everyone is surprised when an “easy” tee shot rockets down the fairway, but pretending that Adam Dunn will have more HR by taking weaker swing, as a rule, is poor reasoning. By that logic, Elizardo Ramirez, who takes the saddest hacks on the club, should be rocketing HRs left and right.

  25. dmcgee77

    Based on last year’s stats, if Dunn had cut back to 100 Ks a year, he would have put 95 additional balls into play, of which .290% would have resulted in hits (not to mention homers) Those 27 additional hits would have raised Dunn’s batting average from .234 to .281.
    The big question is, would his home run numbers and walk numbers increase or decrease?
    You say he hit 14 of his 40 homers with two strikes against him. And I guess your concern is, with a “weaker” contact swing, those 14 homers would possibly be eliminated.
    I would argue, however, that a strong guy like Dunn homers 30% of his hits, whether he uses a big swing or a contact swing. 27 additional hits would give him the potential of hitting an additional 8 homers. i.e 48 hrs.

  26. Chris

    A hitter’s BABIP is a skill – for hitters, .290 might be the average, but it’s not the same as saying every guy has the same BABIP.

    Some examples of hitters who have this skill:

    Derek Jeter: .359
    Bobby Abreu: .356
    Ichiro Suzuki: .355
    Todd Helton: .343
    Manny Ramirez: .342

    And on the low end:

    Tino Martinez: .278
    Jose Valentin: .273
    Rey Ordonez: .273
    Scott Spiezio: .270
    Greg Maddux: .235

    Now, it just so happens that Dunn’s career BABIP is actually .291 (I see the all-league average as being .300). Last year it was only .278.

    In any event, I just can’t agree with the premise that Dunn can fundamentally change his swing, to the point where he cuts his strikeouts in half, yet every other aspect of his game remains the same (HR rate, Walk rate, Isolated Power, etc.)