Adam Dunn's Magical Medicine Ball

CLEVELAND, OH: Designated hitter Adam Dunn #32 of the Chicago White Sox rounds second base after hitting a two run home run during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Whatever happened to Adam Dunn last season seems to have un-happened this season, as the White Sox slugger is slugging better than ever.

Adam Dunn has hit 14 home runs this season.

This is notable for a couple of reasons.

One, that figure's good for second best in Major League Baseball.

Two, Dunn hit 11 home runs last season. All of last season. You might remember last season. Adam Dunn came just a few at-bats short of setting a record you really really really really don't want to set. This, in the first year of a four-year, $56 million contract.

It was kind of a big deal. And nobody could figure out exactly what happened. Just a bunch of little things, if you believe everybody. But now Dunn's hitting the ball just like he used to. Like something magical happened between September and April. Are there magical medicine balls?

From Ben Strauss (via the Times):

Dunn changed his off-season routine, taking batting practice for the first time in more than five years, and is fully healthy. In his second year as a designated hitter, he has become better acclimated to the rhythms of the position.

"One thing I can take from last year is how to prepare for each and every at-bat," Dunn said. "I feel a lot more comfortable at D.H."

As for his swing, it has been helped by a three-pound medicine ball the size of a bowling ball. During spring training, the White Sox’ new manager, Robin Ventura, and their new hitting coach, Jeff Manto, noticed that Dunn was lunging as he swung. He was shifting his weight forward in his stride, therefore depriving him of power.

Ventura suggested a drill that he and Manto used as players — placing a medicine ball between Dunn’s legs during flip drills, while a coach kneels and tosses pitches to a hitter from a few feet away.

"He took a liking to it, and it’s helped get his feet back under him," Manto said, explaining that the extra space between the legs forced a player to center his weight and stay back.

I will not exactly question the efficacy of the medicine-ball drill. But I do suspect that Dunn would have bounced back this season without it, simply because he'd always been a good hitter before 2011. Of course, one might argue that when a hitter is historically terrible, as Dunn was in 2011, perhaps whatever came before is less meaningful than usual.

Really, it's a question of degree. If you were doing a projection for Dunn before this season, you couldn't just ignore what happened in 2011. But without knowing what caused it, you couldn't really know how much weight to give it.

Granted, we could figure that randomness caused some of it. Dunn batted only .240 on balls in play last season, despite line-drive and ground-ball and fly-ball percentages that were exactly in line with his career marks. Dunn did strike out more than usual (lunging!) ... but then he's striking out more than usual this season, too. And nobody seems to mind, because he's batting .310 on balls in play.

The other thing that's vastly different this season? Career-wise, 22 percent of Dunn's fly balls went for home runs. Last year it was only 10 percent; this year it's been 32 percent.

There was never much reason to think that Adam Dunn had somehow become a fundamentally terrible hitter, despite his terrible statistics last year. There are better reasons to think he's a fundamentally outstanding hitter, because he's been an outstanding hitter before.

Just not quite this outstanding. Dunn's numbers will almost certainly drop, but there's an excellent chance that the White Sox will, this season, finally get the hitter they're paying for.

***


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