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.

Findings

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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White Sox Sign Adam Dunn, Red Sox Sign Adrian Gonzalez

December 7, 2010

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The Chicago White Sox signed free agent Adam Dunn to a 4 year deal worth $14 million per year.  The deal will allow Dunn to play his best defensive position – DH.  All kidding aside, I like this deal for the White Sox.   Dunn brings tremendous power, belting at least 38 homers in seven consecutive seasons.  He also walks quite a lot, transforming his lackluster .250 career batting average into a stellar .381 career on base percentage.

The knock on Dunn, of course, is his ability to strike out. He has struck out at least 164 times in every season in which he has accumulated at least 400 at bats.  That’s a huge number of strikeouts.  Unfortunately, it gets more attention than it deserves.  It would be great if he could cut down the strikeouts and hit .275 instead of .250, but the fact of the matter is that strikeouts aren’t much worse than other outs – a .250 hitter who strikes out a ton isn’t much worse than a .250 hitter who strikes out half as much.

Interesting tidbit that casual fans might not know about Dunn – he was once a backup quarterback at the University of Texas.

On the other side of the sock drawer, the crimson hose traded for Padres first baseman Adrian Gonazalez.  Gonzalez is a player who would be one of the most underrated players in the game, if not for media attention that has focused on how underrated he is (oh sweet irony!).  In spite of playing in a park that depresses offensive numbers for hitters, Gonazlez has emerged as one of the leading power hitters in the game – hitting 30+ home runs in each of the past four seasons.  A switch to hitter-friendly Fenway Park should certainly boost his offensive stats.  Gonzalez is also a two time Gold Glove award winner for his defensive play.

I do urge people to take one thing into account with Gonzalez.  While his career road numbers are much better than his career home numbers (.943 OPS vs .800 OPS), this isn’t entirely the effect of Petco Park.  Due to baseball’s unbalanced schedule, Gonzalez has played a disproportionate number of road games in Colorado and Arizona – home to two of the best hitter’s parks in baseball.  This will have a tendency to prop up his road stats a bit.  It’s dangerous to use raw road stats when making comparisons.  My article on park effects is also applicable to this discussion.

Derek Jeter and the Yankees finally called off their game of chicken, with Jeter signing a deal that will pay him $51 million over the next three years, with a complex points-based player option for the 2014 season.  This is much more money than Jeter is really worth at this stage in his career (most players tend to see their skills erode as his age – a sad fact of growing older) but is much less than the $23 million per year that Jeter was reportedly seeking.

On the gridiron, the Denver Broncos bucked Josh McDaniels from his saddle.  McDaniels took over the reigns at the beginning on the 2009 season.  He quickly jettisoned a digruntled Jay Cutler (hey, would YOU be gruntled if there were rumors that the new coach was trying to acquire Matt Cassel to replace you?) and replacing him with Kyle Orton.  J-Mac roared out to a 6-0 start, and many glasses of Coors were held aloft to toast the genius.

The bottom fell out quickly.  The 2009 Broncos lost four straight games after their undefeated start and finished 8-8.  In 2010, the Broncos stand at 3-9 and also found themselves embroiled a controversy involved the unauthorized videotaping of an opponent’s practice session.

What to Watch for in Baseball, 2010

February 23, 2010

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With the baseball season just around the corner (really – it is!), here are some things to watch in 2010.  We’ll likely have a few articles on this topic.  The order for these articles will be the ever-popular “whatever happens to pop in my head today”.

The Nationals

All the hoopla was about the signing of Stephen Strasburg, but the Nationals also put a bit of money into the team during free agency.  They didn’t go crazy with the money (15M over 2 years for Jason Marquis being the costliest deal).  Nor did they cost themselves draft picks by signing any Type A free agents.  What they did do is make several low risk moves.  The deal I like best is Chien-Ming Wang signing a 2M deal for 2010.  Wang won’t be healthy enough to pitch until May, following recent surgery.  However, if he can return to the form that saw him go a combined 28-13 over 400+ innings during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, then it’s money well spent.

The gNats also picked up several other guys who could help them.  Ivan Rodriguez behind the dish, Matt Capps in the pen, and Adam Kennedy at 2B are among the guys who could help.  They also have some decent players already in the lineup.  Perhaps this is the year that people realize that Adam Dunn is a fine offensive player who just happen to be weak in the areas that critics like to jump on – strikeouts and batting average.  Seriously, folks, strikeouts just aren’t that big of a deal – and Dunn makes up for his batting average by walking a ton.  Oh, yeah, and he hits lots of homers.  (Let’s not talk about his defense.

Am I suggesting that the Nationals will make the playoffs?  Holy crap – of course not.  But they’ll no longer be the laughingstock of the league.  That honor will fall upon the Pirates some unknown team.

The Rockies

Hey, I’m a Rockies fan,  so of course I think the Rockies are a story to watch.  But, really, they ARE a story to watch this year.  Prior to 2007, the Rockies had made the playoffs exactly once – in 1995.  In the last three seasons, they have made the playoffs twice.  Many fans tend to write them off as a fluke because both seasons were characterized by very slow starts and red-hot second halves.  If the Rockies can put together a strong wire-to-wire season in 2010, more people may look at them as legitimate perennial playoffs contenders.

There are lots of young players to watch with the Rockies.  If Troy Tulowitzki can avoid the disastrously slow that plagued him last year, he may make a run at an MVP award.  Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ian Stewart should all take another step forward.  Youngster Jhoulys Chacin may also crack the rotation this year.  Starting pitcher Jeff Francis will be returning from injury.

The rise of the Rockies could be aided by the divorce of Frank and Jamie McCourt.  The McCourts own the Dodgers – and we all saw what happened to the Padres in the aftermath of the divorce of their owners, John and Becky Moores.

The Cardinals

Not only did re-signing Matt Holliday make the Cardinals a force to be reckoned with in the near future, but it also sent a strong message to Albert Pujols that management is truly interested in having a strong team around him (and thus making it more likely that they will be able to re-sign him).  I’ve been impressed with Pujols since seeing him during his brief stint with the Peoria Chiefs (low A).  Making Albert Pujols happy is a good idea.

On the field, Pujols and Holliday are a fearsome combination in the 3-4 spots in the lineup and Carpenter and Wainright similarly strike fear in opposing hitters at the top of the rotation.  I’m struggling to find a scenario that doesn’t have the Cardinals winning the NL Central, barring a major injury.  Sure, the Cubs might be capable of a run, but you know they’ll find some way to mess it up.