Adam Dunn sometimes excited and often frustrated White Sox fans in his nearly four years with the team before being traded to the Athletics on Sunday.
The excitement came from home runs, of course, where Dunn was fifth in the American League with 41 in 2012 and fourth with 34 last season. This season he has had less playing time, with 435 plate appearances through Sunday’s games after 649 in ’12 and 605 in ’13, and his home-run rate is down to 4.6 percent of plate appearances after 6.3 percent two years ago and 5.6 percent last season. Still, his 20 home runs were tied for 16th in the AL through Sunday.
Most of the frustration came through strikeouts, where his 222 in ’12 stand as an AL record, just one off the major-league high by the Diamondbacks’ Mark Reynolds in 2009. His defense also could be angst-inducing, with minus-13 runs saved in 2013, and it takes some doing to reach that total in only 77 games in the field. His minus-2.8 defensive WAR that season was fourth-worst in the majors, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
And Dunn’s Sox years got off to a horrific start in 2011. After six consecutive seasons of 38 home runs or more for the Reds, Diamondbacks and Nationals, with no OPS lower than .855, he had one of the weakest seasons this century. His home runs sank to 11 and his OPS to .569, and his 54 OPS-plus — meaning he produced about 54 percent of the offense of an average major-leaguer — is the 10th-lowest in the 2000s. Before 2011, no one would have expected to see Dunn’s name on a list led by Neifi Perez (44 in 2002), Clint Barmes (47 in 2006) and Cesar Izturis (51 in 2002 and again in 2010).
Still, other than 2011, Dunn has had value, strikeouts, weak defense and all. His bases on balls, including a league-leading 105 in ’12, led to on-base percentages of .333, .320 and .340 in 2012, ’13 and ’14, respectively, that far exceeded batting averages of .204, .219 and .220. Getting on base is a valuable skill for hitters anywhere in the lineup — for one thing, the No. 4 hitter, which was Dunn’s role the majority of his time with the Sox, leads off more innings than anyone but the leadoff man.
By OPS, he rebounded from 2011 to .800, .762 and .773. Those don’t equal his best years, but left him with OPS-pluses of 114, 105 and 117, back above the 100 line that indicates an average hitter. By runs created, a lineup of nine Dunns could have been expected to score about 5.5, 5.5 and 5.2 runs per game in those seasons, when the AL averaged 4.5, 4.3 and 4.2.
Dunn had reached the end of his star years by the time he got to Chicago. His defensive appearances should have been rarer than they were. But at the bat, his power-plus-walks game still provided some value.