The video says nothing. I don't feel slower. I'm still seeing the ball...
At this point we all know the story. Model of consistency collapses completely. Everyone wants to know what the problem is. We've heard various A Scout Says stories about how it's not his mechanics. Dunn and Greg Walker don't seem to really know either, at least according to reports. If his performance against his old club is any indicator, it's just suck and more suck and suck forever more. Feels that way, right?
What's all the more worrisome is how incredibly rare this is. Eric Seidman went looking for comparables dating back to 1950. Of all full time players with 3 consecutive seasons with power like Dunn's, just 34 have experienced similar drop-offs. He found that most of the players in question were at the end of their careers or struggling through some injury. Dunn is only 31 years old. No matter what you think of the Old Player Skills Theory, none of it suggests a decline of this nature. For instance, Dan Szymborski's projection system, ZiPS, uses comparable players to create player-specific aging curves. ZiPS projected Dunn home runs in 2011? One short of 40.
In other words, now is the time on Sprockets when we exonerate Kenny Williams. If you're blaming KW for this, you're just a crazy person.*
So no one saw this coming and suckage of this magnitude is almost totally without precedent. How can we explain it? Me being me, I'm going to keep looking at more numbers. For example, his contact rate is more or less what it was last year. To repeat: when he swings, he's making contact at about the same rate as in 2010. In fact, it's all of 2% better this year than last. Just to make sure there wasn't anything really aberrant in the fangraphs numbers, I checked with Texas Leaguers. From 2008-2010, he whiffed on 29% of swings. In 2011, it's 31%. And yet he's gone from K'ing about a third of his plate appearances to well over 40%.
He's not whiffing any more than usual. He's just doing it with two strikes far more often. To me, that says one of two things: it's bad luck or bad planning. A note on the former: however improbable it may seem, it's entirely possible to keep rolling snake eyes again and again. It's always good to get a reminder than human beings have a specific idea of what true randomness is...and it's not true randomness. We can be fooled, says Nicholas Nassim Taleb.
But the thing is, Adam Dunn is a human being, very probably with the same idea of what true randomness looks like. On August 6, 2010 Dunn hit two of his signature monster home runs and took two walks. Over the next three games he got 12 at bats, had no hits, no walks and struck out 8 times. That's just baseball. Sometimes it's heads, sometimes it's tails. Sometimes you're on, some you're off. As Manny Trillo put it:
The best thing about baseball is that you can do something about yesterday tomorrow.
But again, that's not true randomness. Human beings love to underestimate the chance of low probability events.
Incidentally, Manny was a lifetime .345 slugger in 17 seasons. The worse your day is going, the more you can hear a tired sarcasm in his voice. As in, there's always tomorrow ready to pound your head in just like yesterday. As in, there's always tomorrow...until there isn't. You don't feel different. But the ball's waiting for you at second after a good break on a righty with no move.
...Am I just telling myself what I need to hear?
So yeah, between a truly pure strain of sustained randomness and the difference between good and bad in this game, at some point it starts to interact with the psyche. When it goes from ignorable to unavoidable. You can only go so long before you're turning on yourself. And we've seen Dunn do that. The way his head hangs and his shoulders slump after yet another third strike that he saw and just swung through but swung through differently all of a sudden since he seemingly can't not swing through. And he shuffles off to the dugout to wait for the chance to do it all over again.
This kind of randomness is going to affect a player's mental state. And while it's exceedingly rare, we know that players do just unravel. That's Blass Disease in a nutshell. But the fact is that in the long history of baseball, what we know is that players get worse and get better over the course of years. And the ones who've demonstrated their abilities eventually get back on track. There are always aberrations. As fans, we're always deciding whether or not they're aberrations and whether our hero will get off the mat or that they've finally found their kryptonite. Me, I've seen this before.
From the beginning of the season in 2003 to July 10, Paul Konerko hit .183/.258/.274. For the next year and a half, he hit .279/.357/.530.
Y'all remember that aforementioned study by Eric Seidman? Did you notice that he went hunting for whole seasons? His methodology was to find 3 good seasons with a bunch of plate appearances and then to find a bad whole season following it. Not half. Whole.
And more or less the guys he found were washed up or injured. Because while slumps can be very long indeed, it's also incredibly rare that they truly last a whole season. A slump that goes a whole season means injury or age are interfering, or both.
What would he have come up with if he went looking for half seasons? What if instead of really really good power hitters, it was just regular old power hitters? All of a sudden more examples are popping up. Examples of guys who go on to have careers. I bet if you went hunting for bad half seasons, you'd find a ton. As for guys who were magically washed up at mid-career, who can you think of? Ben Grieve is the only guy I can name.
Say what you want about extenuating circumstances and the various differences between the players in question. Find any two examples and there's going to be something that sticks out. Something that lets us say This Time Is Different. Except it's just not. We're not working with a singular example for whom history just does not apply. Adam's just a human being doing it a little bit differently because he's a little bit different than the guys who came before him.
And I'm not just saying that. I went back and looked. I watched every plate appearance from the Nats series, usually more than once. Then I went back and watched a bunch of games where Dunn struggled in 2010 and did the same. This is not scientific, strictly speaking. It doesn't meet the qualifications for double blind. And it's true that I'm not a pro scout. I would love it for those who can to go back to the tape and tell me what they see. In any case, here's the play-by-play, in the order I watched them:
- 6/26 - Livan Herndandez - Slider in for a ball, then change up in the dirt. Slider in catches the inside corner, called strike. Then backdoor curve that's probably off the plate but he gets a strike anyway. Fastball in gets murdered…but foul. 2-2. Then fastball up and in for a called strike 3. According to brooks, also fairly questionable. K.
- 6/26 - Livan Hernandez - Slider in, swung through. Can't check on the cutter too far in. 0-2. Fastball up and out, not really close. Fastball up and in, also not really close, 2-2. Fastball, up and in, not a strike and Dunn swings through it. Pitch trax doesn't show a single pitch in the zone. K.
- 6/26 - Livan Hernandez - Cutter in, swung through. Backdoor curve misses. Curve in taken for a strike, 1-2. Fastball up and out, fouled straight back. Fastball up and out, taken, 2-2. Pitch trax shows only the curve in as a strike. Fastball in, murdered…but foul. Another fastball in murdered but foul. Curve away, ball 3. Slider in, swung through for strike 3. K.
- 6/26 - Sean Burnett (LHP) - Catcher sets up low and away but fastball is up and splits the plate for called strike one. Fastball right there splits the plate at mid-thigh. 0-2. Checks on the fastball way low, 1-2. Shanks a fastball much like the 2nd pitch oppo. Gets the whiff on a fastball way inside, K.
- 6/25 - Tom Gorzelanny (LHP) - Fastball away on the corner, swung through. Slider down and away called strike 2. Leaves a fastball just off the corner alone for a ball. Then fastball up just off the edge swung through for the K.
- 6/25 - Tom Gorzelanny (LHP) - Fastball in for a strike, taken. Fastball down and in misses, 1-1. Slider middle in hammered foul, 1-2. Fastball in and off the plate, chipped foul. Slider bounced, 2-2. Fastball off the corner by a hair, 3-2. Fastball middle of the plate and up but in the zone swung through, K.
- 6/25 - Tom Gorzelanny (LHP) - Curve down splits the plate for a strike. Slider low and away for a ball. Fastball well inside, swung through, 1-2. Fastball away and off the plate. Fastball away on the plate swung through, K.
- 6/25 - Henry Rodriguez - Wild pitch fastball, 1-0. 91 mph change off the corner, 2-0. Another change, this time down but on the plate and Dunn swings over the top. Fastball down and in, 3-1, followed by a fastball on the edge for a second strike. Bounces a 92 mph change for ball four, BB.
- 6/24 - Jordan Zimmerman - Fastball up and in for a ball. Second fastball hits the up and in spot for a strike and Dunn swings through. Curve dropped in at the top of the zone, strike two. Fastball well up, 2-2. Slider misses way in and low. Slider this time hits the spot, Dunn looks like he checks, tosses his bat to take his walk and the umpire rings him up, K.
- 6/24 - Jordan Zimmerman - Fastball off the plate away for ball 1. Fastball up and in on the plate and Dunn swings through. Backdoor curve misses, 2-1. Fastball up and in also off the plate. Fastball right there and Dunn fouls it straight back. Hard slider finds a spot down and in. Dunn whiffs, K.
- 6/24 - Jordan Zimmerman - Fastball up and over the plate, taken for strike 1. Fastball in but on the plate, just above the knee and Dunn mashes it. It's going over the fence until Roger Bernadina decides it isn't. F8.
- 6/24 - Sean Burnett (LHP) - Loopy slider in there for a strike. Fastball in but on the edge also called a strike. Slider low and away just above the dirt for a ball, 1-2. Fastball middle in, thigh high and Dunn fouls it straight back. Fastball down and in, off the plate, 2-2. Fastball a little closer this time, but more or less same spot. Full count slider away and Dunn reaches and chops foul. Fastball away, Dunn reaches and grounds hard to the 2B playing on the grass in the shift. 4-3.
- 6/24 - Todd Coffey - 94 mph fastball center cut roped for a double between the line and the right fielder. 2B.
- 6/24 - Tyler Clippard - Fastball up and away but on the edge for a strike. Slider upstairs, 1-1. Fastball way up, Dunn checks but get called on a swing, 1-2. Fastball up and in misses and evens the count. Fastball belt high and inside off the plate fouled straight back. Change up away but just on the plate tipped straight back. Fastball waist high just a bit off the plate inside and again fouled straight back. Change up away rolled over. 4-3.
- 6/24 - Collin Balester - Fastball rides well off the plate for a ball. Another fastball down and away but on the plate chopped foul. Curve up and away taken for a strike. Another curve at the bottom of the zone, this time hammered for a single. 1B.
- 8/17/10 - Mike Minor (LHP) - Fastball inside, mid-thigh, taken for a strike. Fastball away at the knees right on the corner, 0-2. Fastball up over the middle of the plate but well out of the zone, whiff for strike 3. K.
- 8/17/10 - Mike Minor (LHP) - Fastball up in the zone and splits the plate, but fouled straight back. Fastball up and in at the letters for a ball, 1-1. Fastball low and on the outer third called for a strike. Fastball up, away and out of the zone for the whiff. K.
- 8/17/10 - Mike Minor (LHP) - Change over the heart of the plate for a strike. Another change looking to nick the corner low and in misses, 1-1. Fastball out over the plate and up, whiff. Fastball low and in off the plate, 2-2. Fastball low and away out of the zone and Dunn reaches to chop out. 3U.
- 8/17/10 - Takashi Saito - Fastball out under the numbers gets a whiff. Fastball in under the numbers get another whiff, 0-2. Fastball away well off the plate for a ball. Splitter dives down and in for the 3rd whiff of the AB. K.
- 8/18/10 - Tim Hudson - Fastball low and too far in. Slider in belt high gets a whiff, 1-1. Fastball away induces a bouncer. 3U.
- 8/18/10 - Tim Hudson - Fastball low and away on the corner, strike. Slider up and in misses in. Backdoor slider grabs the plate, 1-2. Fastball well in, thigh high that Rob Dibble for some reason can't believe isn't a strike even though the pitch trax says the opposite. Slider down and in gets him. K.
- 8/18/10 - Tim Hudson - Fastball away off the plate. Fastball away, but not the plate and rolled over. 4U-3 DP.
- 8/18/10 - Billy Wagner (LHP) - Curve at the belt and a bit in for strike 1. Fastball more or less center-cut and thigh high fouled back for strike 2. Fastball up and out off the plate and then another fastball up and off the plate. Same spot a little more on the plate and Dunn swings through it. K.
- 8/7/10 - Hiroki Kuroda - Fastball away but in the zone and then a splitter just off the dirt for a whiff. Finished off with yet another split for a second swing and miss.
- 8/7/10 - Hiroki Kuroda - Slider above the knee splits the plate and earns a whiff. Fastball up and in but in the zone fouled straight back. Splitter bounces, 1-2. Fastball middle of the plate but under the letters also fouled straight back. Split away misses, 2-2. Split away fouled off. Finally finds his spot with it down in the zone and Dunn swings over the top.
- 8/7/10 - Hiroki Kuroda - Fastball way down. Fastball low and away probably in the zone rolled over. 4-3.
- 8/7/10 - Hong-Chi Kuo (LHP) - 3 big heaters up and in. First one whiff, second foul, third pop out. PU5.
- 8/8/10 - Ted Lily (LHP) - Fastball inside off the plate for a ball, then another, 2-0. Third of the same gets Dunn swinging and missing. Fourth finally catches the plate and Dunn fouls it off. Fifth is over the plate but up and Dunn chases. K.
- 8/8/10 - Ted Lily (LHP) - Slider low and away is too low. Fastball in more or less the same spot but a little up finds the zone, 1-1. Change up in the zone, very hittable, but fouled lazily back out of play. Curve nicks the inside corner for the punch out looking. K.
- 8/8/10 - Ted Lily (LHP) - Fastball away at the knees is there for a strike. Change a bit lower gets a weak swing and miss, 0-2. Fastball up and out misses. Fastball in off the plate fouled away. Curve low and away and Dunn just gets a piece, 1-2. Fastball up and in, maybe a strike gets a pop up. PU6.
- 8/8/10 - Octavio Dotel - Fastball up and in for a strike, then a fastball up and away, also strike, 0-2. Curve in the dirt and Dunn checks. Fastball down and in gets a swing over the top. K.
*There're pills for pretty much everything these days. See Globochem for details.