The date is August 10th, 2004, and the Dodgers’ Jose Lima finishes his warmup tosses prior to the bottom of the fourth in Cincinatti’s Great American Ballpark. Adam Dunn steps to the plate to leadoff the inning, having popped out to second to end a nine pitch battle in his first at-bat. The first pitch is a called strike, and Dunn fouls off the second for a quick 0-2 count. Lima Time tries to get Dunn flailing at something off the plate for the K, but The Big Donkey takes three straight balls to the work the count back full. Dunn fouls off the sixth pitch of the at-bat, then the seventh.
It’s just his second trip to the plate in the game, but Dunn has already coaxed sixteen pitches out of Lima; the rest of the Reds have seen just thirty pitches combined in their eleven plate appearances. Lima delivers the eighth pitch of the at-bat and Dunn connects, sending the ball deep to centerfield. It’s not a question of if he hit it out, but by how much. The ball clears the bleachers and takes a bounce off Mehring Way beyond the stadium walls. It lands on a piece of driftwood in the Ohio River, which eventually comes to a rest in nearby Newport, Kentucky.
The official measure on the homer is a monstrous 535 feet, and because of the way the Ohio-Kentucky border was defined by the low water mark of the river back in 1793, it is also believed to be the first (and only) homerun in Major League history to cross a state line in flight. Now that is freaking cool.
The Diamondbacks, who have already laid off thirty one front office employees this offseason, declined to offer Dunn arbitration before Monday’s line, meaning that the Type-A free agent will not cost a draft pick to sign. I think you know where I’m going with this.
Everything about Adam Dunn is big. He’s physically huge (listed a 6’6″, 275 lbs, and I’m willing to bet it’s muscle, not fat) and was a tremendous football prospect in high school, signing on to play quarterback at Texas before deciding to focus on baseball full time. He’s got tremendous power, racks up huge walks totals and even huger strikeout totals. Since his first full season in 2002 only three players have hit more homers (A-Rod, Pujols, Thome) and no one has drawn more walks (non-Barry division). At the same time, however, he’s also struck out nearly two hundred times more than any other player in the game. The man is not without his faults, but the positives outweigh the negatives.
Traditionalists point to his low batting averages (.246 career BA) and aforementioned strikeout totals as evidence of him being an unproductive player, but those of us unafraid of funny acronyms and spreadsheets point to his sky high wOBA (.383 career), EqA (.301) and VORP (37.4) and say “hey, this dude is a really good player.” He’s Joe Morgan’s dream player because he’s extremely consistent, smacking 40 homers on the nose in each of the last four seasons, and posting OBP’s of .388, .387, .386 and .386 in four of the last five years. Stick him in the Yankee lineup with the short porch in right, and those numbers might jump to 50 & .410. Dunn has seen 4.24 P/PA in his career, more than Jason Giambi (4.12) and just barely less than Bobby Abreu (4.27), and he’s also nice and clutchy (2.81 avg WPA over the last five years).
He sucks defensively out in left field, posting revised zone ratings of .899, .826 and .878 over the last three seasons. Dunn has some experience at first, but he’s bad there as well and hurts the team less by hiding out in a corner outfield spot. The Yanks have the option of starting Johnny Damon in centerfield, then sliding him over to left late in the game for defense with Melky/Gardner taking over up the middle. Dunn’s a better athlete than you may think, but his arm will make you wonder how he was ever recruited to play QB for the Longhorns.
Dunn’s name hasn’t even been whispered this offseason, with Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez rightfully hogging the position player headlines. Given the holes in the lineup created by the departures of Giambi and Abreu, as well as the complete lack of outfielders under contract beyond 2009, it would behoove the Yanks to look into bringing The Big Donkey aboard. His skill set is undervalued, and while he’ll still command an eight-figure annual salary (he made $13M last year), he’s a significantly cheaper but only marginally inferior option to Teixeira. Obviously short term contracts are ideal, but a three year deal for the now 29 yr old Dunn wouldn’t be absurd. PECOTA has a favorable 50 percentile projection, so even a guaranteed fourth year wouldn’t be the end of the world. And think, he won’t even cost a draft pick!