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September 17, 2010

Prospectus Perspective

Dunn Enough?

by Marc Normandin

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Jim Thome has been plowing his way through the all-time home-run leaders in 2010. He began the year with 564 career dingers, one ahead of Reggie Jackson for 13th all-time, but with his 23 bombs on the year has worked his way past Rafael Palmeiro (569), Harmon Killebrew (573), Mark McGwire (583) and, most recently, Frank Robinson (586); now Thome sits in eighth. Unless he has a monster 2011, that's the end of the line, as the next batter in front of him is the still active (and much younger) Alex Rodriguez. Sammy Sosa sits at 609, meaning Thome may need more than one season to surpass him.

The first thing that came to mind when Thome passed McGwire was that Big Mac, who isn't that far removed from his playing days, is one more top-10 entrant away from being bumped off the list. There was a time when the words home run and McGwire were synonymous, so this turn of events, so soon after his retirement, strikes me as odd. Baseball Reference was able to sate my curiosity regarding who may pass McGwire and displace him from the leaderboard. Manny Ramirez is the most significant present-day threat at 554, good for 14th all-time, but if he fails to reach, there is no one else until Albert Pujols makes his way there and he is 47th with 405. Everyone in between the two—Carlos Delgado, Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jason Giambi, and Andruw Jones—are too old or have slowed too much to make a run. Scroll a little further, though, and Adam Dunn comes up at 79th all-time, tied with Dick Allen, with 351 homers at the spry enough age of 30.

Dunn is likely heading downward from his peak, but 351 homers is a large number for a 30-year-old. Is it large enough that Dunn is a threat to enter the top 10 in homers? Today we'll take a look at what his future may hold and see if he has a shot at cracking one of baseball's most cherished leaderboards.

First things first—2010 isn't over yet, but it's almost over, so let's add in Dunn's expected homer total for the rest of the year, per PECOTA, giving him 39 on the season (four more) and 355 for his career. As for predictions for future performance, we can use Dunn's 10-year forecast from this year's PECOTA projection. Given he has already played through 2010 though, we can cut those numbers out, making it effectively a nine-year forecast, from his age-31 season (2011) through age-39 (2019).

Over this time period, PECOTA thinks Dunn will amass 3,498 plate appearances and 192 additional homers, giving him 547 for his career. That's well off the pace he needs to reach the top 10, but there are a few things I want to go over here before we call it quits. That PA figure is low because it is assuming Dunn will miss time—it's not that it expects him to miss half a season in 2017, it's just that it's averaging the chance he is on the field with the chance he is not, and it lowers the number. If we want to look at the chances for Dunn's reaching the top 10, we need to give him more PA—consider this 3,498 and 192-homer performance the low end of the spectrum, and if you think that's off the mark or in either direction, realize that, from age 31 through his retirement, Ken Griffey Jr. hit 182 homers—low-end forecast, indeed.

PECOTA assumes Dunn will hit a homer every 18.2 plate appearances over the course of this nine-year period, so we can figure out how many homers he would be expected to pick up with more playing time. Kick him up to 4,000 plate appearances, and it comes out to 220 homers (219.6, but let's round up). Adding 220 to his assumed 355 gives him 575, which today would make him 11th all-time, but by the end of 2019 would more likely be 12th, thanks to Pujols. How likely is it that Dunn gets 4,000 PA before he retires, though? Only 182 other players have accumulated that many from their age-31 season on, with Pete Rose at the top end (9,649) and Jeromy Burnitz (4,011) at the bottom end.

Let's call that the most likely scenario for Dunn, as we already have a low end, and giving him more than 4,000 would be assuming everything goes perfectly for him (we'll get to that, but let's stick to realism for now). This is as unscientific as it comes, but a quick bit of crowd sourcing on Twitter (with the simple question: How many home runs will Adam Dunn finish his career with?) gives Dunn an average career total of 569.7, very close to the above estimate.

I said there were other problems outside of the PA, so here's the second one: Dunn is projected to hit just 62 homers combined in 2011 and 2012 (and if you count 2010's forecast for him as well, just 94 over three years). In Dunn's last three seasons (assuming the four more this year), he's averaged 39. Yes, he's coming off his peak, and will surely get worse before he becomes better, but if there's one thing you can set your watch by, it's Dunn showing off his homer muscle. He's closer to his 70th-percentile forecast this year than his weighted mean, so if we're to assume that we would be dealing with the same scenario for 2011 and 2012 (or an improved outlook due to 2010 success), then Dunn should be able to hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80 homers in 2011 and 2012—the low end has him hitting 35 per year, the high, 40. That's more reasonable for a short-term forecast than the 62 combined, and, by adding the 8-18 additional homers to his 575, Dunn is set to finish with between 583 and 593, which would put him ahead of not just McGwire, but Robinson and Thome as well.

The plate appearance addition that bumped him to 4,000 is reasonable, so it all comes down to his performance in the next two seasons—how long can he stave off a drop in his power production? The longer he can do it, the better the chances that he ends up in the top 10, and also the better the chance that he continues to rack up plate appearances in meaningful sizes late into his career.

If Dunn is in the top 10 in homers in the twilight of his career, then 600 homers will be within reach. Would that be enough to vault Dunn, who is often undervalued for his contributions with the bat (but has lost so much value due to his glove in the outfield in the past) into Cooperstown? It's a question we're not quite ready to answer, given the hypothetical nature of the scenario, but Dunn does not carry the PED legacy of other sluggers who peaked before him—as a member of another era who is naturally enormous, he fits the mold of someone the BBWAA would be pleased to promote were he to put himself into the Hall of Fame discussion with the long ball.

One surefire way to earn that election would be to continue to rack up the plate appearances. If we add another 500 PA to Dunn's future (121 players have reached this mark from age-31 onward, with Robin Yount as the new bottom), using the same 18.2 PA/HR rate, Dunn is slated to hit 247 before we even account for the extra homers for 2011 and 2012. Don't laugh—Luis Gonzalez hit 247 homers from age-31 onward, Fred McGriff had 231, and 35 players had 220 or more total in this time frame. If we're talking about Dunn as one of the possibly 10-15 top homer hitters even in terms of counting, it makes sense to assume he could reach those heights.

Sticking with the 247 would give him 602 homers—add in the 8-10, and he finishes at least one ahead of Sosa. Considering PECOTA has no qualms about Dunn producing into a late age—the question has more to do with how often he is there to produce, as evidenced by a .285 TAv forecast at age 37—it's not difficult to envision a scenario where this happens, as long as he stays on the field. One other thing to remember is that Dunn is a free agent this winter—if he chooses to head to a hitter's park, or finally acquiesces with the wishes of the people and becomes a DH either now or on his next contract, there's a better chance of him hitting more homers, staying on the field, or both.

Let's open things up for discussion in the comments. Which of these three scenarios seems the most likely to you? What kind of numbers do you think Dunn will be putting up in 2011 and 2012, the seemingly key years for this entire process?

 Thanks to Rob McQuown for the data assist on age-31 and over players.  

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29 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Mike White

I think every single AL team needs to try to get this guy signed. I'd personally, however, like to see him in Pittsburgh and using that short right field porch to amplify that HR total. I'm thinking 604 home runs for his career, with 36 in 2011 and 41 in 2012.

Sep 16, 2010 23:54 PM
rating: 0

An obvious spot for me is Seattle, a team in more dire need of(insert Robin Williams quote here)... power then any major league team on the planet. He'd fit in fine at either 1B or DH. I don't think 'pitcher's parks' suppress a player like Adam Dunn too much because he doesn't hit too many 'barely' shots, most of his are bombs and 5-15 feet of distance shouldn't result in more then a few dozen dingers over a decade.

Assuming he moves(soon) to the AL, I'll say he pulls a Jim Thome, plays well into his early forties and finishes with 630 homers. If he stays in the NL I'd say 600 is a reach because his body will take more of a beating.

Sep 17, 2010 00:42 AM
rating: 0


Power hitting lefties have no trouble with Safeco. Seems like Raffy Palmeiro poked 'em past the foul pole every game I saw him play there. Dunn knocked many off the "Hit it Here Cafe" glass during the Futures game Home Run Derby in 2001.

He'd look great in a Mariners uni.

Sep 17, 2010 09:09 AM
rating: 0

Welcome to Baltimore

Sep 17, 2010 00:50 AM
rating: 0

the longer he plays the worse his HR/PA ratio gets, right? So, it's hard to say his HR/PA rate over the next 9 years is 18.2.

Sep 17, 2010 06:06 AM
rating: 0

If he becomes a DH, it improves his chances to hit those HR. But it would also instantly hurt his chances for the hall, however, given the anti-DH bias.

Sep 17, 2010 06:33 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Dan Malkiel
BP staff

You're probably right, even though switching to DH would actually increase Dunn's value since he would no longer be killing his team with his abysmal fielding. It's curious that Dunn, who was born to DH, has played his entire 10-year career in the NL.

Sep 17, 2010 08:12 AM

I don't think he would be penalized too harshly for moving to DH after 10 years of playing in the field. Edgar Martinez was known as a DH, and most of his best years came as a DH, while Dunn has established himself as a star while playing in the field. I think that would matter to some voters.

Sep 17, 2010 08:23 AM
rating: 0
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Why isn't Dave Kingman in? Hitting 400+ homers in the big park, pre-steroid, deader ball early to mid 70s is as impressive as the guys getting 550 to 600 now. No way, no how is Dunn a hall of famer.

Sep 17, 2010 06:35 AM
rating: -12
Marc Normandin

Dave Kingman has a career OBP of .302 and was worth under 20 WARP for his entire career. His hitting wasn't that impressive even when you adjust for context, as his TAv is .272, just 12 points above average. It's not like he made up for it with stellar defense, either.

Sep 17, 2010 07:23 AM
rating: 0
Peter Hood

Does Dunn have the basic physique to perform at close to peak levels late into his career. It strikes me that players like Gonzalez, McGriff were very different physical specimens as compared to Dunn and more durable.

Sep 17, 2010 07:25 AM
rating: 1

I understand the physique critique, but how many players like Dunn have there been? It's not like he's Cecil Fielder.

As for his durability, in his 9 full seasons including this one, he's averaged over 150 games. From 2003-2009, he averaged 158 games. I'm not sure how much more durable than that you can get.

I think the bigger risk is that as he ages, his bat speed will dip, he'll be less dangerous in the zone, guys will throw him more strikes and his OBP will dip. That's certainly not bad, per se'. But, as we've seen with Branyan (and Jack Cust), you can't count on regular playing time if you aren't absolutely elite like Dunn or Thome. Hopefully more and more teams will join the crowd who appreciate the relative unimportance of AVG, but there are a limited number of roster spots for guys like that.

Whether he deserves at bats and whether he actually gets them are two different questions.

Sep 17, 2010 12:32 PM
rating: 1

If he goes to the AL, kiss those extra homers goodbye

Sep 17, 2010 07:48 AM
rating: 0

The DH path looks right to me, but I challenge your underlying assumption that if he follows one of these paths successfully, a HoF berth is in sight. Consider the Keltner Criteria. Dunn has certainly never been the best player in baseball (of course, coming up the same year as that Pujols guy had something to do with that...), or the best player at his position, or the best not in the Hall, or most of the others. If he was the best player on his team, the team was probably not very good, as indeed has been the case to date. No impact on baseball history, more evidence that was worse (because of defense) than his stats than that he was better (walks aren't as underappreciated as they used to be), unspectacular MVP and ASG showings, and while he seems to be a good enough guy, he's not going to get to the Hall on personality.

The real question is the historical precedent, and frankly, ain't none. There simply are no other cases of guys who had 110% of their value residing in their ability to draw walks and hit home runs, did both outstandingly well, but played in eras when BBs and HRs were comparatively easy to come by. If Dunn had had these accomplishments in the 1960s, he'd be a sure-fire HoFer -- and his name would be Harmon Killebrew. It's a very different game now, and he isn't nearly as unusual in his own era as Killer was in his.

Sep 17, 2010 07:58 AM
rating: 8

Maybe he would not qualify by the Keltner Criteria, but I think a bigger determination of his HOF prospects is where he ends up going, and what his future team ends up doing. It would be a plus if he signs with the Yankees and wins 4 championships before he retires. Signing with Pittsburgh, Seattle, or Baltimore and being one of the best players on a bad / mediocre team that nobody outside of the respective city pays attention too (much like his current / former teams)... well... that wouldn't bode too well on his chances.

Sep 17, 2010 08:28 AM
rating: 1

I agree - his chances of getting voted into the hall by the 'writers' are entirely dependent on if he plays for a team writers pay attention to: NYY, Bos, LAA, CHI-A(maybe). If he continues to slug for teams that never appear on anything other than their own Local Fox cable network, he'll never make it.

Sep 17, 2010 11:11 AM
rating: 0

Hasn't Dunn made it clear he's not going to DH?

Sep 17, 2010 08:28 AM
rating: 0
Marc Normandin

For now he's not going to DH. When it starts coming to piling on the homers and getting a job, do you think he's going to retire before he takes a job at DH?

Sep 17, 2010 08:56 AM
rating: 0

Nice analysis, I'd be more than thrilled to see Dunn re-up here in DC.

Sep 17, 2010 08:34 AM
rating: 0
Luke in MN

Once you go to being a pure DH, you can't show any weakness in your bat if you're going to keep plate appearances up. Half a bad season and the inability to continue playing the field took Jermaine Dye from feared bat to obsolete in a second. Even Thome kept playing 1st into his mid-thirties. Guys without gloves at 30 just aren't going to get a ton of plate appearances over the rest of their career...and maybe that's what Dunn's thinking with his strong preference to not DH. Whether GMs see it that way is another question.

Sep 17, 2010 10:23 AM
rating: 2

"Once you go to being a pure DH, you can't show any weakness in your bat if you're going to keep plate appearances up."

David Ortiz would like a word.

Sep 17, 2010 12:56 PM
rating: 0
Luke in MN

He fits my point nicely. He hasn't really shown much weakness at all, but how ready have Boston fans been to run him out of town based on a couple bad Aprils? People were all but writing his obituary last year and in early 2010. It's hardly a given that he'll reach 4000 PAs in his 30s.

Sep 17, 2010 14:44 PM
rating: 0

Perhaps I'm confused on the timeline you are using for showing weakness and as such misread your point. If we look at Ortiz's 2009 and 2010 seasons as a whole, he certainly hasn't fallen off the cliff, but he clearly has had long spells of utter uselessness.

To wit: Ortiz hit .185 with 1 HR through April/May (178 ABs) in 2009. He then his .234 over 188 ABs in June and July, though that was mitigated by 14 HRs and a .500+ SLG. Yet he ended the season with more than 600 PAs.

He then hit .143/.238/.286 with 1 HR in April this year (56 ABs). And he will end this season with more than 570 PAs as well.

Despite going nearly one-third of the season below the Mendoza line, Boston kept putting him in the lineup. So, again, perhaps I just don't understand the timeline you are using.

Sep 17, 2010 15:56 PM
rating: 2

I like Dunn to continue to beat his forecasts (as he has his entire career) and easily eclipse 600 HR.

Sep 17, 2010 10:58 AM
rating: 0

I love watching "Big Donkey" here in DC, but if he doesn't get to stay, I hope he goes to an AL hitter's park.

Sep 17, 2010 11:27 AM
rating: 0

I wouldn't be suprised if he ends up in Boston, plays first base for a year, and then shifts to DH after Papi leaves next year.

Sep 17, 2010 11:40 AM
rating: 0

I agree Dunn will someday willingly DH. Just a lot of posters here speculating about his going to AL teams right now so he could start doing it some right now.

Sep 17, 2010 14:36 PM
rating: 0
Lou Doench

I think Adam Dunn has at least one season in him still where he'll lock in for a whole year, beat the crap out of the ball, nail 50 hr's and actually hit for average for a change. If he does it for a team that wins that year, he wins an MVP and that goes a long way towards gettinghim into Cooperstown.

Sep 17, 2010 14:43 PM
rating: 2

I could see Dunn signing with Toronto and sharing 1B/DH with Adam Lind for a stretch.

Sep 18, 2010 07:07 AM
rating: 1
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