Adam Dunn's present not great for Jeff Manto's future

Rob Carr

Massive September slump by lineup's only slugger puts White Sox on the verge of historic offensive futility

Last month, Adam Dunn was riding high ... at least relatively. A three-hit night on Aug. 17 extended his hitting streak to nine, and boosted his average all the way to .241.

That average wouldn't be noteworthy for anybody else, but Dunn started so miserably that .241 marked a noteworthy achievement. He had to hit .304/.414/.549 over 2½ months in order to get there. He started drawing walks again, familiarized himself with more of the field, and struck out like a normal human being.

Basically, Dunn sustained a hot streak long enough that it seemed difficult to write off as a complete fluke. Not that Dunn suddenly became capable of hitting .300 or close to it over a full season, but .240 seemed reasonable for a guy who finally figured out how to control his big swing and big strike zone against live, antagonistic pitching in a manner that led to more contact, and more of it away from a lopsided defensive alignment.

Turns out that three-hit game and two months of .300-hitting just set the stage for some nasty, nasty regression.

A golden sombrero for Dunn on Wednesday night gives him 38 strikeouts over his last 84 plate appearances, during which he's hitting .103/.167/.218. That knocks his line back down to .219/.319/.439, and if he can't shake the death spiral, the Sox could finish the season with every regular owning an OPS+ below 100.

Here's what it looked like entering Wednesday, and I'll update it in the morning when Baseball-Reference.com does (Update: It's updated):

Rk Pos G PA BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1 C Tyler Flowers 84 275 .195 .247 .355 .603 59
2 1B Adam Dunn* 137 564 .219 .319 .439 .758 100
3 2B Gordon Beckham 89 350 .274 .330 .375 .705 88
4 SS Alexei Ramirez 143 614 .279 .304 .366 .671 79
5 3B Conor Gillaspie* 120 400 .254 .313 .395 .708 88
6 LF Dayan Viciedo 111 420 .261 .302 .422 .724 91
7 CF Alejandro De Aza* 139 619 .263 .320 .405 .725 92
8 RF Alex Rios 109 465 .277 .328 .421 .749 98
9 DH Paul Konerko 112 468 .248 .318 .358 .676 81
10 IF Jeff Keppinger 111 430 .244 .271 .303 .574 53
11 C Josh Phegley 51 171 .218 .231 .321 .552 46
12 OF Jordan Danks* 65 125 .248 .320 .381 .701 87
13 RF Avisail Garcia 29 114 .306 .342 .417 .759 102
Non-Pitcher Totals 145 5409 .250 .303 .377 .680 81

That's remarkable, because every White Sox team has had at least two hitters post an OPS+ of 100 or greater over 150 plate appearances. And there are only eight of those teams in the 112-year history of a franchise that has struggled to find hitters.

This is bad news for Jeff Manto, because any White Sox hitting coach should sweat if his hitters draw unfavorable comparisons to the 1910 Sox, a.k.a. the weakest offense the Sox ever produced (2.92 runs per game, team OPS+ of 71).

Worse yet, the two feathers in his cap were Dunn and Alex Rios. Rios isn't around -- and he's rediscovered the power swing that eluded him over his final months in Chicago. Dunn remains, but he's on his way to another flat finish:

  • 2013: .094/.121/.188 in nine September games
  • 2012: .200/.302/.373 in 21 September games
  • 2011: .128/.317/.191 in 15 September games (before Manto)

Look elsewhere around the roster, and there are no obvious Manto success stories -- just a couple of maybes (Gordon Beckham? Conor Gillaspie?), and far more disappointments.

Manto, an upbeat guy, sees it a different way, naturally:

"I think we did as good of a job as we possibly could. We came with a lot of energy and a positive attitude. And guess what? We fell a little short, but there was a lot to build on and a lot of excitement ahead of us."

[...]

"It was a great learning year. We had a lot of guys who got better despite the collective numbers," Manto said. "I'm pleased with how the rookies went about their business. I'm pleased with [Dayan] Viciedo coming on strong and [Alejandro] De Aza staying consistent. I'm happy where [Gordon] Beckham is, and Alexei [Ramirez] is up there hitting .280 again.

"So, a lot of positive things came out of there. I look at what Conor Gillaspie did. First time in the big leagues for a full year, and Avisail [Garcia] having a good little run here. There's a lot of things to be positive about, although the numbers would indicate let's beat it up."

One could pick apart his quotes sentence by sentence, but that's overkill. The numbers speak for themselves, and it's impossible to discern Manto's true impact on them. Some problems and players predate his arrival, so the same exact thing may have taken place had Greg Walker survived. He's not pointing fingers or being aggressive and defiant, so he's not firing up a strong reaction in me. He's being polite, and there's not enough of that in the world.

But Walker always had Paul Konerko as a star pupil, and Konerko remained in his corner through everything. This offense has no such stabilizing force; nobody whose production is guaranteed if conditions are met. Manto seems well-liked and has a year left on his contract, so I imagine he'll have people going to bat for him. Problem is, they're the same guys who have been going to bat for the White Sox all season, and look how well that's gone.

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