Here’s some news for you – Adam Dunn is hitting the heck out of the ball. He’s sitting at .318/.457/.655. Compared to most of his career, these numbers are outstanding. His career rates are .248/.383/.522. So his walk rates are pretty normal, his OBP-AVG is .139, compared with the .135 career rate. But his power is way up, his ISO is .337 compared to .274 for his career. And also importantly, his average is up. His OPS of 1.112 (!!!!one!!one!!!) is in no small part due to just getting HITS. If he was batting .248, even with this great ISO, his OPS would be down to .972. Still pretty awesome, but not the same.
First, taking a look at what he’s swinging at, it’s not that different than usual. I looked back to 2005, and the story is similar to what you may think.
You can see that his swing numbers are down across the board this season, but it’s not necessarily from judging balls and strikes better. He’s swinging at less of everything. In terms of swinging inside the zone, he’s always been about the same as the rest of the league. He’s below there now. And outside of the strike zone, he take pitches more than most people. This is part of the story that we knew – he swing at strikes and doesn’t tend to swing at balls. And this should go along with the other part of the story, his contact rates. These are only based on pitches he swung at, not on those he watched.
The contact rates show a few things that are significant. First, let’s tackle the In the Zone rates. He makes contact much less than the league average in that category (which is the top black line). This completes the 2 parter we already knew about his selectivity and strikeout numbers – the scouting report has always said he has a great eye (low swing rate at balls Outside the Zone), but he strikes out alot because he swings and misses at strikes (relatively low contact rate at balls In the Zone).
What got my attention about all of these numbers is the Outside the Zone contact rate. This season he has jumped from a career rate of 40.6% to a slightly above league average number of 63.8% this year. It is a possible explanation for the high batting average this year. He’s making more contact with balls outside the zone, and because he hits the ball so hard, that is translating to hits and not outs, causing his batting average to go up. Why, however is he still on pace to strike out 173 times? Well, from what I can see, he’s also swinging at the fewest number of strikes in 5 years. And, he’s missing more strikes that he swings at. He’s got more strikes, but is also putting more balls into play.
The Bad News (Maybe)
If the explanation for his numbers is simply that he is swinging at more bad pitches and hitting them well, I would guess that it is bad news for his batting average. He’s not a rookie, he’s got about 7 full seasons worth of ABs behind him, the chances of him changing much now are slim. That would make me believe that this production will level off, he will get closer to normal contact rates, and his average will go way down.
The Good News (Possibly)
But another explanation that I think about has a much more positive spin. And it takes into account data from both charts. He is swinging at less pitches, and maybe it’s because he is becoming more selective. Not on balls and strikes, but across the board. Maybe his eye is the same, but he’s thinking “if this isn’t my pitch, I’m not swinging”. And if it is the fastball or the slider that he thought it was, he tries to hammer it even if it’s slightly outside the zone. This isn’t really a physical development that wouldn’t make sense at his age, it could be a choice, something that took experience. So it is a possibility. It makes sense because he’d swing at less pitches across the board (when he’s thinking one thing and it doesn’t come), he’d miss more pitches that are strikes (when he guesses wrong) and he might hit more Outside the Zone (when he sees a fastball that he would have let go by in years past because it’s a ball, he hits it because it’s a fastball). While this could lead to some more called strikeouts In the Zone, the benefit could be that he is hitting the ball better both inside and outside of the zone. Hence the .318 batting average.