Adam Dunn and Jeff Manto still have work to do. - Brian Kersey
The slugger who lost his way aims to revisit an approach that he said failed to work for him before.
With SoxFest approaching, we're starting to get a steady stream of "What I Did Over Winter Vacation" stories. That's always a welcome sign, especially considering these temperatures.
This time, Mark Gonzales caught up with Adam Dunn, who will not be at SoxFest this weekend. He has a pretty good excuse: His wife, Rachel, is due with their third child on Jan. 29.
Dunn's pleasantries still don't extend to his past season, which he called "useless" given the way it ended. The harsh self-evaluation prompts pledges to change, and so he tells Gonzales how he thinks he might be able to alter his approach.
But Dunn's situation is similar to that of Gordon Beckham, in that their flaws date back years. When Beckham says that he "turned a corner," there's something that sounds too familiar. Then you go back to the archives and realize he said pretty much the same thing last year, as well as the year before.
With Dunn, he has to answer to his strikeout total and low batting average. He's hitting .184 over his two years with the White Sox, which makes him the only position player in franchise history to carry a sub-Mendoza average through 1,100 plate appearances.
(Fun Fact No. 1: Red Faber, Billy Pierce and Ed Walsh join him, but even Walsh hit .193).
(Fun Fact No. 2: Before Dunn, Ron Karkovice owned the lowest batting average through 1,100 plate appearances for any White Sox since World War II ... at .221.)
That's not a feat Dunn is proud of, and there's only one way to change it:
"I've got to be more aggressive earlier in the count,'' Dunn said. "I know it sounds stupid because I try to be ready all the time. I do like to look at pitches, and sometimes it's great. But that (3-2) is a count I don't like. The pitcher can go so many ways."
This was Dunn's mantra when he won the Comeback Player of the Year award, and you can see why it appeals to him, because you can't strike out if you don't let the count get to two strikes.
But the idea has appealed to him in the past, and then the appeal faded. Over at Southside Showdown, James pointed to a Washington Post article from April 2009, in which Dunn says he couldn't train himself to pull the trigger on pitches that might be called borderline.
He might have given it a try. Entering his last season in Cincinnati back in 2008, he wrote (or "wrote") a piece for MLB.com about his goals for spring training, and ending with:
Sometimes I get too selective. Statistics will show you that it's hard to hit from behind in the count at this level, so my plan is to be a little more aggressive early in the count.
If I can reduce my strikeouts and get my batting average out of the .260s and up to .300 where it's supposed to be, I can hit 50 home runs or more. But if I stay in the .260s, it's going to be near impossible to get there. My goal is simply to be a better overall hitter. Everything else will flow from that.
Whether he gave it the ol' college try that season, he dropped the pretense afterward. Entering the next season, Dunn told the Washington media at his introductory press confernece:
"It's boring to watch," he said of his deliberate hitting style. "I watch video all the time, it's true. I fast-forward myself.....I wish I was a lot more aggressive, but I've tried that, and it didn't work."
And so, he said, he waits for his pitch, "and if not, see you at first." He paused. "Or in the dugout."
This is not to say that it would be impossible for Dunn to change now, because his current output has him balancing on the cliff. Over the last four months of the 2012 season, Dunn hit .191/.309/.424. The 25 homers were nice; the rest of his numbers, not so much. In cases like these, sometimes the "adapt or die" instinct kicks in, and a player makes a change he had never seriously considered before ("The approach that the slugger rejected has become the cornerstone...").
That Dunn shot it down so bluntly makes me skeptical that he'll be able to take to it convincingly, but it's something to watch when the season starts.
The other line from Gonzales' article that caught my eye?
"There are things I've started working on," said Dunn, who said a right oblique strain that sidelined him in early September took longer to heal this offseason than he expected.
Dunn is now 0-for-2 when it comes to downplaying injuries with the line, "I'm a quick healer."