Do you trust Adam Dunn?

Lost or (in my case) willfully ignored in the White Sox interesting and bizarre start to the season has been Adam Dunn being everything we could have asked for (in 2011). After Sunday's 2-4, 2K day, Dunn is hitting .273/.419/.515. It's been a whopping 43 plate appearances.

The Hot Take line has moved on Dunn a lot over the past few years. As he fell apart in 2011, he was ripped on so joyously that even Stephen Colbert got in on the fun, before his struggles went on long enough that people started to contemplate what kind of personal problems such humiliation could lead to or be stemming from. When he rebounded in 2012, those who think it proper to pepper "regression" into normal conversation 'told-you-so'd' the masses who wrote him off after the worst season ever, and many never bothered to check back in to confirm their findings on Dunn after the All-Star Break of that year. As Dunn muddled his way through a poor 2013, it gave new motivation to judge his complete tenure with the franchise as disastrous, leading us to now, where he's been such an albatross for so long, that his ability to fill a lesser role with skill might go overlooked.

Which is definitely what he's doing so far. Dunn has had to suffer through just eight plate appearances toward lefties in 2014. The cause of keeping him away from southpaws all year was dealt a mighty blow when Avisail Garcia went down and is getting no help from Paul Konerko thus far. And it's crucial, because one constant in Dunn's ups and downs in Chicago is his ability to hit lefties has completely evaporated. He has just a .631 OPS versus left-handers with a 36.5% strikeout rate since 2011, compared to an .810 mark previously. Dunn's mediocre 2013 against righties and his steady decay muddles the case about how much to trust him going forward, but there's no debating whether he can step up and be a full-time player again. He can't and shan't.

Two things are pumping up Dunn's stats at the moment. The first is an 18.6% walk rate that would be right up with his 18.7% career-high from 2008. If we fancy Todd Steverson a magician, this is not a completely absurd and unprecedented result on its face. There's no obligation to pick this figure apart right away.

The other is a .389 average on balls in play, which is patently ridiculous and not long for the world. It's nearly 100 points over league-average, and league-average is not something Dunn has been in Chicago. In a cramped park facing frequent infield shifts, Dunn has put together a .253 balls in play average since 2011.

Dan Hayes reported on Dunn's effort to counter the shift with an all-fields approach last season, but it cratered alongside everything else at the end of his 2013 campaign. His balls in play average went to .224 after the article went live.

 Credit: ESPN Stats & Info

Credit: ESPN Stats & Info

So far this season (as seen above), there's a bit of an all-fields approach at work, even if Dunn's two hits on Sunday were the first real damage he did to left field this season. His pattern for when he keeps the ball on the ground still seems very shift-worthy and the Indians agreed as much over the weekend. The response of the league is all that ever really matters, but the widespread abandonment of the shift versus Dunn always seemed premature given his volatility.

To answer the question of the headline straight-on: No. At Dunn's age and especially with his last three years, he's in a constant struggle of accommodating for declining skills and bat-to-ball ability. It cannot be controlled, and to a degree, it's not worth worrying about.

What the Sox used to be able to control, was a deceptively varied set of options for platooning and protecting Dunn, which has now dwindled down to nothing after injuries to Avisail Garcia (season-ending and Viciedo-enveloping) and Jeff Keppinger (last seen crossing the U.S./Mexico border at Fort Hancock). Paul Konerko is his only counter-balance now, and has looked so far like nine plate appearances in two weeks is too big of a workload. Until he shows a spark, the Sox roster is poor in blah right-handed bats to spell their lefty platoon-DH, and rich in irony.

But this is the best offense in baseball — for the moment — we're talking about. Speak skeptically if you wish about Alexei Ramirez's MVP campaign, but there's at least enough permanently in place to explain why Dunn storming out of the gate might go relatively unnoticed. It's not about him anymore, and whether he can be trusted or not doesn't matter like it used to.

 

 

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