Here at YCPB, we are still stunned over just how bad Adam Dunn was in 2011. Last winter, Dunn signed a 4-year, $56 million contract to DH for the White Sox, and things looked good initially when he homered in his second plate appearance of the year. Through seven games, he was hitting a Dunn-esque .240/.424/.520 with a couple of homers, but then he fell into a terrible slump and simply never recovered. By the end, the man who had been one of the most consistent (and predictable) sluggers in baseball finished with an atrocious .159/.292/.277 line in 496 plate appearances.
Nowadays, a player needs 3.1 plate appearances per team game to be considered a regular player eligible to be a league leader in rate stats, which comes out to 502 PAs for a full season. This was not always the case. 145 players qualified in 2011 between the two leagues and the fact that Dunn was not one of them was almost certainly intentional, and designed to spare him the embarrassment of showing up at the bottom of a whole bunch of lists whenever people searched for qualifiers.
So we are going to fire up the hypothetical machine and play “What if Adam Dunn had gotten six more PAs?” (note: we are not speculating as to what would happen in those six PAs, so for the purposes of this exercise, his rate stats are the same as his actual 496-PA season. That said, even six homers would raise his line to a still terrible .171/.301/.330)
.159 batting average: Tied for second worst all-time with 1906 Bill Bergen. Bergen was a legendarily bad hitter, even by catcher standards, even by Deadball Era standards, and even by Deadball Era catcher standards (Bergen actually holds six of the bottom 15 spots on the single-season batting average list, bottoming out at .139 in 1909). Out of 1607 Major League players with 3000+ PAs, Bergen’s .170/.194/.201 career line ranks dead last in all three categories, by 37, 56, and 58 points respectively. This guy was a really bad hitter, and Dunn’s 2011 managed to match his second-worst performance, at least in terms of batting average. Dunn has never been much of a batting average guy, and you can be a productive player with a low average, but when you hit .159, you had better either walk at a Bondsian pace or hit the ball out of the ballpark nearly every time you manage to get a hit. Dunn did neither of those things. Worth noting here that none of Bergen’s seasons would be considered qualified under today’s 3.1-PAs-per-game standards. The worst performance ever using those standards is Rob Deer’s .179 in 1991, a full twenty points better than Dunn’s 2011.
.292 on base percentage: Thirteenth worst in baseball in 2011. This one isn’t nearly as embarrassing as batting average, as it’s merely terrible as opposed to historic. On top of being 13th worst in baseball, a qualified .292 OBP would be 7th worst in the AL and not even the worst on his own team—Alex Rios and his impressive .265 OBP takes that honor, and Gordon Beckham was right behind Dunn at .296. Rios and Dunn both made $12 million last year and are owed a combined $82 million over the next few seasons.
.277 slugging percentage: Worst in baseball in 2011 by a full 30 points. Jason Bartlett slugged .307 for the Padres, and Juan Pierre paced the AL at .327, a full 50 points ahead of Dunn (Juan Pierre!). In fact, in the 17 years since the Strike, there have only been 12 individual seasons of a player qualifying for rate stats with a slugging percentage less than .300 (by 11 players—Brad Ausmus did it twice). Of those, only three were lower than .277: Kevin Stocker’s .274 in 1995, Nick Punto’s .271 in 2007, and Cesar Izturis’ .268 in 2010. Adam Dunn, if he had six more PAs, would have had the fourth lowest slugging percentage in the last seventeen years. This from a guy whose career slugging, even with 2011, is over .500, and who has had two qualified seasons where his slugging was literally double (.554+) what it was this year.
.118 isolated power: 26th worst in baseball in 2011. We picked IsoP (slugging minus batting average—basically a measure of power, as it measures how many of your hits were extra base hits, weighted toward homers) because it’s a stat that plays right into Dunn’s wheelhouse as a low-average big-power guy. Prior to 2011, Dunn’s career IsoP was .271, good for 12th all-time among players with 3000 PAs, and behind guys like Thome, Pujols, Ted Williams, Bonds, McGwire, and Ruth. That .118 IsoP in 2011 would slot him between Casey Kotchman (.116) and Alex Rios (.121) and would place him in the bottom 20% of the league. That there were still 25 players worse than Dunn here sounds like maybe he wasn’t so terrible, but this is a stat that couldn’t be more tailor-made to make a guy like Dunn look good.
11 home runs: Tied for 34th lowest in 2011. OK, lots of people don’t hit a whole lot of homers. Of the 145 qualifiers in 2011, only Jamey Carroll finished the year with zero home runs, but 26 players from Juan Pierre to Derek Jeter to Bobby Abreu finished the year in single digits. Dunn’s 11 homers were the third lowest on the White Sox, but still a shock for a guy who hit 38, 38, 40, 40, 40, 40, and 46 homers in the last seven years. Worth noting that Dunn fell just short of Don Wert’s 1968 record of 12 homers by a player with a sub-.300 slugging.
42 RBIs: Tenth worst in baseball, third worst in the AL in 2011. An everyday player is more or less guaranteed to drive in at least 40 runs. Only six qualifiers failed to do so in 2011 and that is more or less in line with recent seasons. Dunn drove in triple digits in six of the previous seven seasons (and 92 in that seventh). The six who failed to drive in 40 this year all had the excuse of batting at the top or bottom of their respective lineups. Dunn had no such excuse–three quarters of his PAs came batting 3rd, 4th, or 5th.