Trying to Find Cause for an Adam Dunn Power Surge

This article is a failure. I feel that it’s fair to warn you of this ahead of time. It will attempt to explain a phenomena and it will only wind up serving to eliminate potential hypotheses. In an evolving world where baseball analytics seeks to explain trends, quantify ability, and eliminate the illusion of randomness in baseball, this article will prove fruitless.

The phenomena I attempted to figure out: the Adam Dunn Power Surge. My curiosity was peaked during May 14th through 17th, when Dunn hit four home runs over the course of four days. It isn’t the first time Dunn has hit with so much power in such an abbreviated period of time. Looking at individual game logs over at Baseball Reference, I managed to find four other instances, all in 2012, which I would qualify as an Adam Dunn Power Surge. With these five instances isolated, I wanted to find something that they all had in common, in order to be able to predict the next one.

To me, there aren’t too many things more exciting to witness as a Sox fan nowadays than to witness Adam Dunn start crushing pitch after pitch over the course of a week. I think part of it is because he’s living up to my lofty pre-2011 expectations in those moments, and another big part of it is that he manages them in between marathons of chronic underachievement. It’s nice to see Dunn in a groove. He can still be one of the scariest hitters in baseball, the type of guy who can change the momentum of a game. Hell, when I saw Dunn hit a grand slam at the Cell on June 9th of last year—starting power surge #2—I couldn’t stop raving about it the rest of the day even though I also had the pleasure of watching Chris Sale pitch 8 shutout innings (against the Astros….but still). I want to see Dunn do well. And I wanted to be able to predict the next time it was happening.

So, how did I define an Adam Dunn Power Surge? A power surge could not start until Dunn has hit three home runs in four days. After that, the surge was intact so long as he hit a homer every other game. Two games in a row without a home run, and the surge was over. Based on this criteria, I found my five instances: April 29th through May 6th, June 9th-15th, July 13th-15th, August 13th-15th, and the aforementioned May 14th-17th.

I started by looking at the production of the person batting directly behind Dunn in the order, thinking that Viciedo’s hot start off the DL may have been the catalyst for Dunn seeing better pitches during the most recent surge. From May 14th-17th this year, Dunn benefitted from the man behind him in the order (both Viciedo and Konerko split the duties, playing two games apiece) hitting 5-15, including one HR and one walk. Thinking I was going to hit this hypothesis out of the park—long ball puns!—I was shocked to learn that, during three of the other four surges, Dunn received an absolutely criminal lack of support:

  • April 29th through May 6th, 2012: 4-24, 1 HR, 5 walks (AJ on the 29th, Konerko through May)
  • June 9th-June 15th, 2012: 8-19, 1 HR, 2 walks (Konerko, save for one at-bat by Brent Lillibridge on the 9th)
  • July 13th-15th, 2012: 2-13, 1 walk (Konerko)
  • August 13th-15th, 2012: 2-14 (Rios, Youk, Rios)

Save for the surge in June, Dunn’s support squad managed to hover around the .150 mark. Perhaps having the threat of Konerko hitting behind him early last season was enough to give Dunn primo pitches to launch, but you’d think that Dunn could have taken advantages of more pitches while Konerko was actually hitting. This wasn’t the golden ticket.

After dispelling that idea, I looked at the possibility that Dunn’s power surges were the result of timely swing changes. Much was made about Dunn holding his hands higher, confirmed by Buster Olney’s tweet on May 12th. The next day, Dunn had a home run robbed by Aaron Hicks, and then a power surge began the day after. Could it be that the same thing happened each time?

Sports Illustrated, June 4th, 2012:

“He can't explain how, but Dunn has fixed whatever ailed him.”


Next, I decided to look at the pitchers Dunn had hit all of his home runs against:

Combined, Adam Dunn went 60-189 against this group, good for a .317 batting average and a .831 slugging percentage, as opposed to his career slugging percentage of .497.

SUCCESS!!! NAILED IT! LOOK AT THOSE NUMBERS! THAT’S EMPERICAL EVIDENCE, YO! Now, all that’s left to do is to look at these numbers with the home run from the power surge removed to verify that Dunn owns these chumps all day, everyday. Behold!

40-169, .237BA/.455 slugging

…Damnit. Well, at least we know Adam Dunn abuses the hell out of Clayton Kershaw. Who knew?

Things were starting to look desperate. I was running out of ways to approach the problem. In a last ditch effort, I decided to look at the average high temperature for every day during the surges and then find the average. Would any correlation suggest causation? Absolutely not. But I was desperate for anything at this point.

  • April 29th-May 5th, 2012: Average high 71 degrees
  • June, 2012: 84 degrees
  • July, 2012: 95 degrees
  • August, 2012: Indoors (at Toronto)
  • May, 2013: 82 degrees

I couldn't even look at summer temperatures without a 24 degree variance.

Conclusion: Sometimes, Adam Dunn just hits the ball really well for a few days. It’s completely inexplicable. Just enjoy it when it happens and don’t try to explain it, because Lord only knows when we’ll see it again.

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