Following up on Adam Dunn and Jeff Keppinger

USA TODAY Sports

Robin Ventura hints at lineup changes even after Dunn walks three times, and Keppinger might enjoy a different role himself

On Monday, we talked a little about Jeff Keppinger and Adam Dunn struggling through incredibly slow starts. A couple of news items from Wednesday were originally slotted for the Terrerobytes post, but I had a little more to say about them than I thought.

About Adam Dunn

Dunn, who compounded his current inability to square up pitches with less of a willingness to take walks, kinda resembled his old self on Wednesday. He struck out looking in his first at-bat, but he walked in his other three plate appearances, which nearly doubled his season total (four to seven).

Listening to Robin Ventura's postgame conference, a reporter asked him about Dunn reaching base three times, and whether it could be a sign that he's finding his old mojo. The phrasing of the question presented an opportunity to avoid talking about Dunn's struggles for a day.

Ventura didn't take the bypass route. Instead, he said:

"Walks are good, but he’s also here to hit some homers,’’ Ventura said.

On performance alone, Dunn should be moved down in the order, but the Sox are paying him $56 million over four years to drive in runs and hit homers. They probably won’t contend for the division if Dunn doesn’t perform to normal standards, so he’ll be given every opportunity to produce in the middle of the lineup. Ventura suggested there is a limit to his patience, though.

"Sometimes, this is their job,’’ Ventura said. "In some instances that’s the way it is. The other one is, if it’s not getting done we have to find someone to get in that spot and make the lineup better.’’

That's the strongest threat of a diminished role by Ventura yet, probably because he has seen his fair share of plate appearances that resulted in walks when they should've ended earlier for good reason. For instance, in his second time facing Zach McAllister on Wednesday, McAllister missed on his 0-1 pitch. This is all Dunn could do:

Dunn-foul_medium

After wasting opportunities like those, a walk becomes less virtuous.

Since he went 0-for-1, his average fell back down to an even .100. And if you want to increase his sample size, he's hitting .177/.279/.386 over his last 361 plate appearances since the All-Star break. That's a lower OBP than the one he posted in his disastrous 2011 season (.292), and all the "Plan B" walks in the world aren't going to keep his head above water.

Ventura could have dropped these hints earlier, but at least they're coming in April. And it's even better to see it come after Dunn stumbled into a productive day, because in this case, the ends don't justify the means.

About Jeff Keppinger

Over at RotoGraphs, Michael Barr looks at Keppinger's "Bizarro World" developments this season. We know about the lack of walks, lack of BABIP and increased strikeouts, but Barr points out that Keppinger is chasing more pitches out of the strike zone than he normally does, especially sliders and curves.

It's too early to know anything for sure -- especially since this is our first extended exposure to Keppinger -- but the front-runner explanations include pressing in the face of a sub-Mendoza average, or his contact skills declining with age. However, there's another thing that's been rolling around in my mind.

Colin, when he isn't typing Aimee Mann lyrics in all caps for reasons beyond my comprehension, has made off-hand comments about Keppinger's swing looking off. Perhaps he can elaborate here, but here's an example:

And then there was this exchange in Wednesday's gamethread:

  • "Kepp its not against the law to turn on a ball" -- Tdogg
    • "It is if you're batting second! You must hit behind the lead runner!" -- Rhubarb
      • "That's another obstacle in our way of putting together rallies." -- 3E8

These observations all can fit together. If Keppinger is feeling obligated to be the Adeptest Bathander Ever, he could be looking for pitches suitable for hitting the other way, which would take some of the oomph out of his swing.

And what kind of pitches are suitable for hitting the other way? Stuff on the outer half of the plate.

And what kind of pitches are thrown on the outer half of the plate? Breaking balls are a popular choice.

And seeing him struggle doing Typical Second Hitter Things brings to mind what he said back in February about Joe Maddon's impact on his career year with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012:

Manager Robin Ventura has him in mind at the top of his order, probably second, but last year with the Tampa Bay Rays, manager Joe Maddon simply turned him loose like a cleanup hitter. Keppinger fits the mold of a situational hitter, but he was anything but as a Ray.

"They kind of told me to just go out and do my thing, go out there and hit,’’ Keppinger said Thursday. "It was the first team I had been on where they just let me go. They didn’t want me doing the little things. They didn’t want me moving runners or sacrifice-bunting.’’

Keppinger said he liked that.

Engaging attack mode didn't transform Keppinger into a power hitter. He only racked up 25 extra-base hits, which is far from a career high (15 doubles, one triple, nine homers). But he set personal bests across his triple-slash of .325/.367/.439, and while he grounded into 14 double plays, that's in line with his other full(ish) seasons.

Which brings up another problem -- Keppinger is on pace for 25 GIDPs this year, even with his attempts at shaping his approach around the runner. So maybe even though Good Ol' Keppy can put the bat on the ball as well as anybody, that alone doesn't make him a natural for being Time Capsule Nellie Fox.

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