By R.J. Anderson //
The liquidity of information is at its runniest during the buildup to the trade deadline and the winter meetings. Nevertheless, Joel Sherman is reporting the Rays are considered the favorites to land Adam Dunn. Sheman also broke the Scott Kazmir deal, so he may or may not have some decent sources within the organization.
Dunn is a giant oaf. He stands six-foot-six and weighs something like 285 pounds. He’s nicknamed Big Donkey for a reason. He is, without a doubt, one of the best hitters in the National League. For all the talk about how streaky high walk, high strikeout, high home run players can be, look at Dunn’s wOBA since becoming a fulltime player with the Reds in 2002:
That’s quite a string of impressive and consistent performances. Really, there is not too much negative to say about Dunn offensively. The contact issues are not overly pervasive because he’s still going to get his and he refuses to expand his strike zone. Since 2007, Dunn has produced something like 115 park adjusted runs above average. Carlos Pena, by comparison, has produced 104 runs while being one of the Rays’ best hitters. We don’t really need to talk about Dunn’s offense though.
What we do need to discuss is Dunn’s position. Dunn is not a flawless bezel. In fact, he has a big flaw; that being his glove is awful either in the outfield or at first base. How awful depends on the degree to which you trust the defensive metrics. For our sake, let’s say he’s the worst fielding first baseman in baseball. That assertion might not be too much of a stretch either. He’s bad.
The offensive part of Dunn’s game could be extinguished by becoming a designated hitter but he refuses to do it. He overvalues his own skill set on a micro and macro level and continually devalues just how horrible he is defensively. That’s nothing surprising. Baseball players are egotistical creatures; we all are, really. Self-evaluation … honest self-evaluation is the hardest item in life to grasp. That’s why it’s no surprise that Dunn misinterprets his own abilities.
The Rays value defense properly and as such know that Dunn’s liabilities cut into his offensive assets. He’s consistently proven to be a 25-35 run producer each season, but UZR has him wiping away that offense with equally atrocious defense, making him a 1-to-2 win player for each of the past two seasons. This year he’s supposedly improved and maybe he has. The Rays have a first baseman with a superior glove and need a DH with a superior bat. Is Dunn overall an upgrade? To figure that out we can simply produce another formula and fill in the blanks:
Dunn’s offense and defense at 1B + Pena’s offense at DH must be > Pena’s offense and defense at 1B + the DH offense.
Let’s plug in some numbers and see.
Dunn’s offense at 1B: ~15
Dunn’s defense at 1B: ~-10
Pena’s offense at DH: ~6
Pena’s offense at 1B: ~9 (no DH penalty)
Pena’s defense at 1B: ~0
DH’s offense: ~0
For fun, say Dunn decides becoming a DH for two months and a ring is worthwhile:
Dunn’s offense at DH: ~12
Pena’s offense at 1B: ~9
Pena’s defense at 1B: ~0
Those are just napkin calculations. Adjust as you see fit. The point is, Dunn, even at first base, makes this team better. He does not make them ridiculously better. He probably doesn’t make them divisional or championship favorites as much as you’d like to think. He does make them better though. The reality is the Rays can make the playoffs without making a move whatsoever. Where Dunn comes in handy is that his floor and roof are higher than Willy Aybar’s.
Dunn is a pending free agent with draft pick compensatory status and a whole lot of other things play into the mix, including what the Rays would have to give up. It’s an interesting rumor, though, and one that gives a feeling of déjà vu from 2008 when the Rays were supposedly in on Dunn until the deadline.