Do Adam Dunn’s Strikeouts Hurt The White Sox?

June 22, 2012

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Longtime readers may remember an article about strikeouts a while back.  At that time, I was looking at the whiffs of Mark Reynolds and trying to calculate the impact they had on his team.

Adam Dunn

Adam Dunn

This time, I went a step further.  I took a close look at Adam Dunn of the White Sox.  Dunn has 109 strikeouts this year.  How much better off would the White Sox be if Dunn had made “productive outs” – that is, outs that advance a runner – instead of striking out?

It’s important to note that I’m not trading any of Dunn’s strikeouts for HITS.  There’s no doubt that it would be better for Dunn to turn some of those Ks into single and hit .265 instead of .225.  Hits are clearly better than outs.  The question is whether strikeouts are inherently worse than ground ball outs and fly outs.  Is an Adam Dunn who hits .225 with 200 strikeouts less productive than an Adam Dunn who hits .225 with 80 strikeouts?

I combed through the play by play data for all of Dunn’s games this year to find the answer.  This is mind numbing work, and it’s possible an error or two crept in, but I think my answer is pretty close.  There are two basic components:

  1. Does the opportunity for a productive out exist?  The opportunity only exists when there are baserunners with fewer than two outs.  If there are no baserunners, it’s impossible to advance any runners.  If there are two outs, any type of out will end the inning.
  2. Would a productive out have made a difference in the inning?  If there’s a runner on first, Dunn fails to move him along, and the next guy hits a home run, a productive out would not have made a difference – the runner scored in spite of Dunn’s strikeout.  On the other side of the coin, if Dunn fails to move a runner from first to second and the next batter struck out the end the inning, a productive out wouldn’t have made a difference either.  The runner would have simply been stranded on second instead of first.

In a nutshell,  we’re looking for cases where a productive out would have made a difference in whether or not the team scored a run that inning. 

Was a productive out possible?

In 87 of the 109 cases, Dunn was not in a situation to make a productive out. 

  • 43 of the strikeouts were the final out of the inning
  • 72 of the strikeouts came with the bases empty
  • 28 of the strikeouts came with two outs and the bases empty.  This overlap explains why 43 + 72 adds up to more than 87.

This leaves 22 situations where a productive out was possible.

Would a productive out have made a difference?

  • In 12 of the 22 remaining cases, all of the baserunners ended up scoring anyway.
  • In 6 cases one or more runners were stranded, but moving the runner along with a productive out would not have changed the outcome.  For example, in two cases, the very next batter made an out to end the inning.

This leaves four cases.

April 23rd, season strikeout #26.  Dunn came up with runners on second and third and one out.  After Dunn’s strikeout, Konerko lined out, Pierzynski drove home one of the runs, and Rios ended the inning with a foul pop.  Had Dunn made a productive out, he might have driven home the runner on third and allowed the runner on second to advance to third and later score.  The White Sox won the game 4-0, so no harm done.

May 16th, season strikeout #57.   Dunn came up with a runner on first and nobody out.  After his at bat, the runner advance to third on a single and a fly ball before being stranded.  Had Dunn advanced the runner to second, he may have scored.  White Sox lost this game 7-2, so this wouldn’t have changed the outcome. 

June 9, season strikeout #94.  Dunn came up with one out and runners on first and second.  After his strikeout, the runners advanced to second and third on an infield single before a ground ball to shortstop ended the inning.  Had Dunn advanced the runners, the lead runner probably would have scored on the infield single.  White Sox won the game 10-1, so this didn’t cost them.

June 17, season strikeout #102.  Dunn came up with one out and a runner on first.  After his strikeout, the runner advanced to third before the hitter was thrown out trying to reach second.  Had Dunn advanced the runner, he likely would have scored on the subsequent hit.  This occurred in a 2-1 extra inning loss, so this could have made the difference in the game.


Over the course of 69 games and 109 strikeouts, I have found exactly one situation in which a productive out could have actually made the difference in a game.  In my opinion, that’s not a very good reason to criticize Dunn for his high strikeout totals.  His .225 batting average really isn’t any worse than any other .225 batting average.  Trying to force him to alter his swing to cut down on his strikeouts probably has more downside risk (fewer homers) than upside opportunity.

Some of you may argue that an inning may have played out significantly differently if a productive out had been made.  Having a runner at second would have caused the pitcher to alter his strategy, etc.  While that’s true, it’s hard to speculate what may have occurred, so I’ve assumed that the subsequent batters would have achieved the same result.  I could also argue that having more ground balls would also mean more double plays, which could have killed some innings.

And finally … this is a relatively small sample size, and is specific to Adam Dunn.  A larger sample size or a different player may get you somewhat different results.  However, my opinion is that a .225 batting average is a .225 batting average – there’s no reason to separate the guys who achieve the .225 by striking out a lot from the guys who achieve it by hitting weak ground balls to shortstop.


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