On The Adam Dunn Rumor

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:

.373
.353
.403
.391
.365
.399
.383
.394
.388

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
=
16 runs

Pena’s offense at 1B: ~9 (no DH penalty)
Pena’s defense at 1B: ~0
DH’s offense: ~0
=
9 runs

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
=
21 runs

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.

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5 Responses to On The Adam Dunn Rumor

  1. Hendo says:

    The rag on Dunn’s defense does not stand up to a fact check. Dunn’s UZR/150 at 1B is -1.2. Cf. Carlos Pena: -2.3.

    • R.J. Anderson says:

      You can’t use one season of UZR as a true talent evaluation.

    • Jason Collette says:

      That would be the case for the season but it is best to look at 3 yr averages to get a better feel for defense and adding 08 and 09 to the formula really highlight the difference between the two in the field.

  2. steveospeak says:

    I think you nailed his value fairly well, this season he has shown he can handle first so if Pena is struggling some with the glove they could swap.

    I really do think a Dunn and a LHP relief pitcher (Slaten likely) deal would make a lot of sense for both teams.

    • ouvan59 says:

      As a Nats fan I am praying that the Nats are able to get some value for Dunn. There are only two good things you can say about his defense at first. One, playing him at first gets him out of the outfield where he is truly awful and two, he’s 6’6″ which comes in handy on high throws.

      The rest of his defense his terrible. His range is extremely poor and he is dreadful picking low throws out of the dirt. Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman are the main recipients of the “benefits” of having Dunn at first. It’s no coincidence that Zimmerman is on pace to have the lowest fielding percentage of his career with Dunn at first.

      Now on to Dunn’s hitting. I’m a big OBP proponent and people love to point out that Dunn refuses to swing outside the strike zone. That sounds great but Dunn does it to a fault. Sometimes you need a ball in play by your big hitter. You don’t need a walk. Of course, with Dunn’s numbers when he is at bat with RISP and 2 outs maybe having him swing isn’t the best idea.

      I think Dunn can be very productive under certain conditions. He needs to be a DH and a DH only and he needs to have very good hitters on either side of him. But it is no coincidence that Adam Dunn has never played on a team with a winning record. He was traded to a team in the middle of a playoff hunt in 2008 (Arizona) only to watch that team go 15-19 down the stretch and watched the Dodgers come from 4.5 back to pass them and win the division.

      I don’t hate Adam Dunn. In fact, I enjoy watching him play and from all accounts he is really good guy. But he is the kind of flawed player that really hurts teams in the long run.