Under-appreciated Adam Dunn hoping for first, final playoff appearance
By DAN BERNSTEIN
College Contributor Network
Adam Dunn will be missed if he chooses retire after the 2014 season, and it won't be merely because of his impressive statistical production over the past 14 years. It's the duality of his career that will stick most; the good and the bad, the balls sent into orbit and the lonely looking man walking back to the dugout after each strikeout, head down.
His combination of strengths and flaws and continued excellence in the face of harsh criticism are qualities that us fans can respect from the struggles in our own lives, which is somewhat rare in a profession that often creates a disconnect from the general public.
At 34 years of age, Dunn has accomplished an incredible amount. His 462 homers come despite limited at bats against lefties over the years, and so an even better barometer of his immense power rests in his 14.8 at bats per home run -- the ninth best mark in the history of baseball. He has six career 40-home run seasons including a streak of five straight 40+ campaigns between 2004 and 2008.
An elite ability to draw walks compliments his power and allows him to reach base almost as efficiently as he wallops home runs.
Over the course of his career, Dunn has consistently posted a BB% at least five percent higher than league average and has twice led the league in walks. Consequently, despite an average that often sits below .240, Dunn's career OBP is an impressive .365.
His skill-set has led to an extraordinary offensive career built on more than just raw power, and his 123 career wRC+ (100 wRC+ being league average) shows that.
But there are also the inescapable flaws that are used (often unfairly) to detract from Dunn's accomplishments. The aptly nicknamed "Big Donkey" cannot play professional caliber defense, yet he's been forced to try and do so 1,642 times -- including a frightening 1,113 times in the outfield.
According to baseball-reference.com, Dunn's career dWAR (a sabermetric assessment of defensive ability) is -29.4. That's truly awful and so some criticism is warranted for his outfield failings.
At the same time however, it's a bit unfair to fault Dunn too much for the ten seasons that he was stuck in a league without a DH. If he'd come up in an American League organization, defensive ineptitude would bear no relevance to conversations about his career.
The most discussed trait that Dunn possesses, and the one that has made him such a fascinating player to watch, is his propensity to strike out far too much. He's done it 2,357 times in his career, which places him third all-time in strikeouts behind two players, Jim Thome and Reggie Jackson, who played seven more seasons than him.
And while he's always whiffed a ton, matters have worsened since 2011 as his strikeout rate has inflated above 30%.
But because of his ability to draw walks, Dunn's BB/K rate is actually above average, and the stigma attached to his high strikeout rate appears largely unfair when you take into account his other contributions. Dunn's problem is that while he fails at the plate far less than an average major league player, his failures are much more noticeable.
He has never reached the postseason, but, after moving to Oakland through waivers a couple of weeks ago, this October has become a possible grand exit for Dunn. It would be wonderful to watch his Herculean frame hammer pitches through autumn nights on the stage that's evaded him for so long. And maybe then the critics will realize his greatness.
Dan Bernstein is a freshman at the University of Maryland. He is romantic about the Oakland Coliseum (where he grew up) and Anfield (where he's never even been). Follow him on Twitter: @danbernsteinUMD