Dunn one-armed a game-changing two-run homer off Tyler Robertson in Tuesday's victory over the Minnesota Twins, which means he's the first player this year in either league to hit 30. Remember when he had only 11 last year?
After he reached that nice, round number, the factoids came spilling out.
- He became the fourth-fastest White Sox to reach 30 homers in terms of games. Not foot speed -- at the very least, Carlos Quentin, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee and Dick Allen have him beat there. (@WhiteSox)
- He became the fourth White Sox lefty to hit 30 homers, joining Oscar Gamble, Jim Thome, and his boss, Robin Ventura. (@ckamka)
- It was his 10th homer off a lefty this year over 143 plate appearances. He had six hits off lefties last year. (this guy *thumbs pointed back*)
While Dunn's homer total reached the Fun Numbers, I think it's worth paying attention to what's happened when Dunn has kept the ball in the park. Over the last few days, Dunn has made a rather stunning transformation, and you can see it below the jump.
Starting with the opener of the Detroit series, Dunn started using left field a lot more. It didn't make a difference in the results -- in fact, he grounded into the rare 5-6-3 double play that day. An 0-for-10 streak extended to 0-for-18 before he was finally able to hit it where they ain't. Hell, he even showed bunt once.
Even without instant success, he didn't abandon the thought, and now he might be starting to find a little bit of a groove. He has a modest three-game hitting streak, and a homer in each of the last two.
And we'll see if this continues, but at least for one night, more of the field opened up for him.
In his first at-bat against Cole De Vries, Dunn grounded a single through the right side. The bases were empty, but Ron Gardenhire did not call for a shift, and Dunn hit a single through the right side like he was any regular ol' left-handed hitter. That turned out to be a big hit, because he came around to score after Konerko's double and Brian Dozier's error.
Later on, he explored the far reaches of right field for his 30th homer, then came back with a double off the wall, next to the left field foul pole (and I'll add those dots to the chart when TexasLeaguers.com updates).
He struck out in his other two at-bats, and normally that wouldn't be noteworthy, but here's another area where a shift has occurred -- Dunn hadn't struck out multiple times in one game in a week. The decrease in strikeout frequency is another sudden sight, although he started showing this development at the start of the second half.
Dunn has 12 strikeouts in 12 games during the second half, as opposed to 134 over his 84 games in the first half. This can be chalked up to small samples more than his batted-ball data, because a couple of silver sombreros will put him right back on his first-half pace.
After Tuesday's game, Dunn was told he had homered more than he'd singled, and that fact delighted him:
"Again, I don’t care about singles," said Dunn, who was 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs in Tuesday’s win. "I care about hitting the ball as hard as I can. If I do that and get a single, sometimes it’s OK. I’m not here to hit singles."
That's always been the party line for Dunn, but I can't help thinking this is more of a front, at least as of late. There's no doubt Dunn has different goals in the batter's box over his last five games, and it makes me wonder if he's just a little self-conscious about how absurd his stats are.
I don't like translating results into a mindset, because that's a slippery slope that ends with players "not caring enough" during a losing streak. In this case, though, it seems possible. We know he has the Comeback Player of the Year in his sights, and that would be a harder sell if Dunn's batting average began with ".1" for the second straight year. Think of this what you will, but he started using the opposite field when his batting average dropped to a season-low .208 for the third time.
Likewise, Dunn was on pace for 254 strikeouts at the break, which would shatter the MLB record by 31. He's since reduced his pace to 244, and in the unlikely even that he were somehow able to maintain this K-per-game rate, he'd settle somewhere around 210 for the season. I'm guessing any reduction in strikeouts would be means to the end of improving his batting average, but hey -- if you can avoid ignominy in two areas instead of one, why not give it a shot?
If you're not convinced that he's all that concerned about certain stats, there's the idea that he's in the rare position of playing a vital role on a contender. Dunn has never played a postseason game, and he's the active leader in most games played without a playoff appearance (1,666 and counting). This being the case, it wouldn't surprise me if he were merely trying to reduce the number of games in which he had nothing to offer during the second half.
Or, maybe this is a random event, or a temporary state until he reaches some kind of equilibrium. Whatever the case, I'm having no success finding a cluster of games with these results elsewhere in his history. He might deny that he's focusing on stats or watching the scoreboard, and that could be true, but he's doing something differently for some reason, and I'd love to know why. And if Dunn's not telling, then ask the Twins why they didn't shift.