|Adam Dunn tosses his helmet after another strikeout. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
Adam Dunn is no longer property of the Washington Nationals for two simple reasons:
1) The organization decided the expense -- in terms of amount of money and length of contract -- was not worth the risk on a decidedly flawed player.
2) Dunn and his agent were convinced that on the open market he could sign a four-year deal that would give him financial and geographical security for the bulk of his remaining playing time in Major League Baseball.
The factors that went into the Nationals' conclusion are up for debate, but if you want to look purely for baseball reasons, they are certainly out there.
Dunn has been one of the most prolific home run hitters over the last ten years. That fact cannot be ignored, and just about every article being written about him the last 24 hours has included this worthwhile statistic: He's second only to Albert Pujols in home runs the last two seasons.
However, that's the extent of his dominance.
His high on base percentage is a product of his approach at the plate, which is entirely focused on one thing: finding a fastball to drive 415 feet, the average length of his home runs. It's why he walks -- and strikes out -- so much. His lone goal is to hit a home run every single time at bat. If he doesn't get his exact pitch, he'll take his base or sit down.
Over his 10 year career, 28.4 percent of Dunn's hits have gone for home runs, while 26.9 percent of his plate appearances ended in strikeouts and 16.3 percent ended in a base on balls. Remarkable statistics.
Want a comparison to realize how remarkable that is? Barry Bonds, the all-time leader in home runs, homered on "only" 25.9 percent of his hits.
There's certainly value in that. And the power numbers he's put up in his career are impressive. But he's a one-trick donkey. It's a trick that enamours him to fans, because we all know that homers sell. But if he doesn't hit a home run, he adds very little value to the offense.
While I generally do not believe in the notion of "clutch", I do believe in statistics, and it's hard to ignore Dunn's statistics in crucial situations over the course of his career.
With two outs and runners in scoring position, over the course of 771 plate appearances in his career in that situation, Dunn hit .214. His OBP, however was an "impressive" .429. He has hit less -- but walked even more -- than his career norms in the most crucial of circumstances over his career. His home run rate in that situation (4.4 percent of plate appearances) is also lower than his career norm (5.8 percent).
There's a lot of hand wringing and hair pulling and teeth gnashing about Ryan Zimmerman's comments to select reporters yesterday in the wake of Dunn's leaving. You know what? Boo hoo. Zimmerman's contract isn't up until after the 2013 season. There are a lot of things that could happen between now and then.
There's plenty of time to build a winning team before Zimmerman has to make the decision that Dunn did yesterday. There's plenty of time for Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores and Derek Norris and Chris Marrero and Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen and Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole to form the nucleus of a winning baseball team.
And can we please dismiss the notion that Dunn "protected" Zimmerman in the lineup. Protection is a fallacy, it doesn't exist. There's no statistical evidence over the 120 years of professional baseball that proves that who hits behind a player in the order affects how that player will perform.
Ryan Zimmerman has had his two best years the last two years because he's progressing as a player, reducing his yearly May slump, and just becoming a better-conditioned, better-prepared player. His swinging strike percentage is getting better while the number of strikes he sees is getting lower.
He, simply, is an All-Star approaching his prime.
Will Zimmerman see a few more at bats this season where pitchers will pitch around him? Perhaps. But that happened this year as well, as the good starters knew that Dunn was an easier out than Zimmerman.
Frankly, there's a very good chance that Adam Dunn would be a broken down old man before this team was ready to compete, and Nats fans need to realize that.
Rizzo has been at the helm now effectively for two seasons, and he's rebuilding this team in the image he sees fit. There was a lot of work to do, more than what the casual fan can even fathom.
They're still digging out from the destruction Major League Baseball, Omar Minaya and Jim Bowden did to this organization. It sounds like an excuse, but reasons are different than excuses.
How to correct it? It starts by hiring competent, dedicated management. It starts by eliminating flawed players and finding better, more well rounded players. It starts by finding a stable of pitchers to build around and complementing those pitchers with enough offense as to not waste their efforts. It starts with deciding how you want to build your baseball team.
Rizzo knows what he thinks makes a competitive baseball team, and that's centered around ground ball pitchers with good strikeout rates and athletic defense; you can agree with it or not. He would have taken Dunn back -- on his terms -- but Dunn does not fit into Rizzo's mold of how to build a championship team. Only time will tell if Rizzo is right, and he's putting his job on the line to prove it.
Despite the obvious benefits of Dunn's prodigious power, Rizzo knows that Dunn is a lousy fielder, slow runner, and despite his friendship with Zimmerman, not necessarily a leader of men.
Not to mention that Dunn's on base percentage has declined the last two years and his walk rate last season was the lowest of his career. In addition, his line drive rate has dropped the last three years, while his ground ball rate and ground out/fly out rate have both gone up. These factors are not good for home run hitters.
It appears that his swing is slowly, but gradually deteriorating. If I can find this out, so can Mike Rizzo.
Statistics don't measure how bad a fielder Dunn is, but they're a starting place.
Granted, defense at first base is not the primary measuring stick, but does have to be taken into consideration. Dunn's feet are so slow at the bag that he often could not get to balls hit five feet away from him. He was terrible at going backwards on balls over his head. He had no idea when to leave the bag to make a play. And he was clueless on how to hold runners.
Some of that is attributed to having played the position for the first time last season. But some of that is physical, and some of that was attitude.
Phil Wood, of all people, had it best on this point yesterday, as he related a story about he and Dunn having a conversation during batting practice one day.
He spoke at length about how hard he was working on improving his defensive skills, yet he was reluctant to come out early or stay late and take extra ground balls. I spoke with him at length early this season about what batting practice meant to him. "It's just a way to loosen up," he said. But wouldn't it help to face someone who threw left-handed, or maybe made the ball move a little bit? "Probably," he said, and let it go at that.
Anecdotal, to be sure, but I think this not only speaks to the physical aspect of the game, but the leadership part as well. Dunn loved to play "flip" with some of the guys before BP, but only half-heartedly would he participate in fielding drills before batting practice, often making jokes at his own expense as he would throw another ball into center field trying to make a throw to second base.
But that's his personality. Dunn is, for lack of any better term, a goofball. He doesn't seem to take anything seriously. Some find that endearing. Some find it annoying.
While we're on this topic, I am compelled to re-visit Dunn's trip to the Milwaukee Brewers radio booth DURING A GAME to visit his old buddy, Bob Uecker, following the Uek's return to the booth after heart surgery. I took some flack on that for being over-reactive, but is that the type of thing a "leader" would do?
Could you, even for a second, imagine Derek Jeter, or Pete Rose, or Cal Ripken -- or Ryan Zimmerman -- doing such a thing?
He left the bench, went through the clubhouse, up a public elevator in his uniform, sat in for a half inning on the opposing team's radio broadcast and returned to the bench -- while the game was being played. As I wrote on July 25:
There is plenty of time pre-game or post-game for Dunn to have caught up with Uecker. Before he reports, during batting practice, after the game. On HIS time. Dunn's personal time.
At game time, Dunn belongs on the bench, or the clubhouse, or the batting cage below the stands. Period. No exception. It's game time.
I ask again, are those the actions of a leader? What if Scott Olsen or Elijah Dukes had done the same?
"I wish you hadn't told me that," Manager Jim Riggleman said when he was told -- by reporters after the game -- what had happened.
I haven't even gotten into the whole financial aspect of the situation.
It's entirely possible the Lerner family, faced with a complete season of Stephen Strasburg rehabbing his surgically repaired right elbow, simply decided they wouldn't pay $14 million per season to anybody this off-season, let alone a one-dimensional player.
That seems to be the prevailing opinion on message boards and social media this morning. And I'm not entirely discounting that opinion.
In fact, it's easy to see if that's what you're looking for.
But if you can look past that possibility, there are a lot of reasons why Adam Dunn is no longer a Washington National. Most of which have to do with the actual game of baseball, and Mike Rizzo's idea of how to build a winner, on the field -- and off.
Time will tell if Rizzo made the right decision on Dunn, and it could very well be his signature decision with the Nationals. If Dunn follows the path of Jim Thome toward the Hall of Fame and continues hitting 35-plus home runs for the next four years, and the Nats continue to be mired in mediocrity (or worse), we can all blame Rizzo for discarding one of the great power hitters of this generation.
But if Dunn starts to break down, and by year two or three of his contract his stats look more like those of Richie Sexson, Mo Vaughn or this guy, Rizzo will have every right to say "I told you so."