Teaching the Big Donkey New Tricks

Adam Dunn’s batting average has never been considered great, but it has taken a nose dive over the past few seasons. More and more teams have been using a extreme shift on the left-handed hitter. Dunn has now decided to implement his own shift beating swing adjustment. The change has his batting average up, but at the cost of some home run power.

The 33-year-old has hit at or below the league average AVG over his career.

His low AVG dropped to .184 for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Besides a fluky 2011 when he hit 11 HRs, he was usually good for 40 home runs a season. The 2013 season started the same way, low AVG and some HRs. On June 1st his AVG stood at .156. Then, He decided he needed to make a change (source):

Disgusted that he felt good at the plate but had only poor results to show for it, the White Sox slugger dramatically switched his approach in early June

He felt like he and hitting coach Jeff Manto had discovered a good approach and the results would come. But by early June, Dunn realized he needed a new plan as he found far too many would-be base hits were taken away by a dramatic defense that featured as many as three defenders to the right of second base.

Despite sometimes gaping holes at shortstop, Dunn continued to pull the ball and pull some more … Dunn said he decided to abandon his “stupid, stubborn ways.”

“By him going to left with consistency it’s definitely going to force teams to play more straight up,” McEwing said.

From June 1st on, Dunn has hit .294. I don’t see the .294 AVG being close to his true AVG talent level. He was taking advantage of players out of position (which they no longer are). I think an AVG near .240 to .260 would be reasonable.

Here is a graph of line drives and ground balls over the last 3 years (-45 is the left field line, +45 is the right field line). The change in 2013 is easily visible.

Season: GB and LD Angle
2011: +25 degrees
2012: +25 degrees
2013 (April and May): +33 degrees
2013 (June on): +15 degrees

The new approach has led to an average extra 15 feet of distance per ground ball or line drive.

Season: LD and GB distance
2011: 145 ft
2012: 155 ft
2013 (April and May): 161 ft
2013 (June on): 177 ft

The change will come at a cost, a loss of home runs (source).

After going over spray charts with third-base coach Joe McEwing, Dunn has decided to take what the defense gives him even if it means fewer home runs. In April and May, he average 1 HR every 16 PA. Since then, it dropped to one HR every 21 PA.

Adam hasn’t lost any distance over the season’s 2nd half. Here is a graph of 2013 fly ball and home runs distances.

His drop in HRs is from hitting less fly balls. In the first half of 2013, his FB% was 44% and it now stands at 30% for the season’s 2nd half.

Adam Dunn’s adjustment shows there is still some life in the Big Donkey. With some swing adjustments, he has turned himself into a .250/30HR guy instead of the .200/40 HR he has been over the past 2.5 seasons. His mid-2013 swing change is something to consider when looking at his value for the rest of 2013 and beyond.

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Off topic, but curious on your thoughts, given past comments…

You have always said that when Niese is going right, his vertical release point is >6ft and horizontal is near 1 ft

It seems that his last few starts he has been solid and his release points seem to be trending in the right direction, and his velocity is solid

Are you buying that he may be back in vintage form and worth an add down the stretch (esp this coming week with the phillies at Metco and the nonhitting lefties Nats)

Thanks in advance