Before we get started, let’s remind ourselves:

  1. OBP is much more important than AVG. OBP tells you how often a player doesn’t make an out, probably the most important thing to know about a hitter
  2. Striking out isn’t awful. Especially if you have the speed of a crippled ox. Better to strike out than to hit a double play
  3. No matter what crazy commentators say, a HR is the best way to score. Sure, they may be flukey at times and the pitcher can recover from 1 HR, but every time you do it, it’s an automatic run, or 4

Ok, now, here we go…

Since I’m bolding his name, Adam Dunn, must be a Nat. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but he was just signed for 2 years, $10 million per year $8 million in 2009, $12 million in 2010. The contract itself is less important to me. It’s fine, he’s certainly getting less than he wants, I’d think the Nats would have done better to get another year out of him. But the money isn’t too much to hamstring the organization, make them look stupid, or do anything else other than make me wish I could hit. So I’m gonna move on from there.

Dunn, the player

What I’m concerned about is Dunn himself. That, and what he does for the team.adam_dunn So let’s start with Dunn. As you may have heard, he hits home runs. 40 actually, every one of the last 4 years. He’s also a lefty. Since a lefty power hitter was something this team desperately needed, those are good things. He gets on base alot. In his career, it’s 38.6% of the time he gets to the plate. A .386 OBP is great, it was the 16th best in the league last year. He also strikes out ALOT, like 160-200 times a season. But remember, if you want him to be a “normal” good hitter, you could take away 50 strikeouts, but you’d have to take away 50 walks, too. Anyway, in case you’ve forgotten, a slow lumbering runner does nothing good for a team when he grounds into a double play, much better to strike out.

More statisticerly, he’s had the following OPS+ stats over the last 5 seasons: 146, 141, 116, 136, 129. All but one of those beats everyone on the Nats 2008 squad, and the 116 OPS+ only loses out to Dukes, Belliard and a limited Nick Johnson.

On the runs created front, according to The Hardball Times, Dunn created 110 runs in 2008 (73 with Cinci and 27 with Arizona). That tied him for 17th in the entire league last year. The highest National on this list was Christian Guzman, ranked 70th. Next was Milledge at 150th to round out the top 150.

Much will be made of his defense, but a killer hitter who is bad at defense is better than a great defender who can’t hit when you are talking about RF or 1B. If only there was a way to factor in defense as well…

Dunn, the teammate

WARP-1 is just the kind of  stat that can help us here. WARP1 is a win contribution statistic from Baseball Prospectus, and it factors in hitting and defense. Dunn checked in at a 6.3 last year, in a very good year. Think of this stat as the number of wins a guy produces over Joe Minorleaguer. So a guy like Dunn, with a 6.3, would produce 5 more wins than a guy with a WARP of 1.3. Judging by his other seasons, 6.0 may be a more expected number.

In right field, Austin Kearns had a WARP of 1.0. But that is for just over a half of a season. So double that, give him a 2.0, and Dunn is still worth 4 more wins than Kearns. That is a huge number. Of course Dunn probably won’t play much RF. I am going with the assumption that he would play LF, but replace Kearns’ spot in the OF. Of course, Kearns’ bench spot may have already been set in stone with the Josh Willingham acquisition. Regardless, this is for comparative purposes.

At first base, the combo of Boone, Johnson and Young did the majority of time there, TOTALING a WARP of 2.4. Add in 1/3 of Ronnie Belliard’s season, which was about his first base playing time, and you get a total WARP of 3.3. So Dunn’s expected WARP of 6.0 is still over 2.5 wins higher.

The Verdict

I’m looking forward to seeing Dunn play at the same time as Nick Johnson, although I’m not sure that this will happen. The two of them back to back will see alot of pitches, and could really rattle some pitchers. That can only help the other hitters. It does overload the outfield/1b logjam. It makes Kearns expendable, he hasn’t hit in 2 years, and there is no reason to believe he will. With Dukes and Milledge being so young, they should get the majority of playing time in the outfield. Willingham is an interesting case. He is a very productive player, but may be seen as tradeworthy now. Then there’s Johnson. Even if he can stay healthy, he is in the last year of his contract. So he may also be trade bait. With him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got traded before the start of the season (possibly to the A’s). Regardless, it will be interesting to see how Manny Acta rotates this group of solid players.

The signing of Dunn will be good for this team, it fills some needed gaps in the lineup, understanding that it does create problems in the field and with playing time. But these are good problems to have. On a team that could only muster 117 HRs and 534 BBs last year, it’s good to get a guy that had 40 HRs and 122 BBs. That, by the way, is 34% and 22% of the Nats totals, respectively.

Finally, the WashingtonTimes will be having a Nats Chat. My guess is Dunn will be a topic.

By Charlie