Adam Dunn adjusts to beat the shift

Jonathan Daniel

You know how everybody on TV's always jumping on the sluggardly sluggers who refuse to lay down a bunt or go the opposite way against the extreme infield shift?

Well, nobody gets to say that about Adam Dunn. He might be the Big Donkey but, as CSNChicago's Dan Hayes writes, Dunn's no stubborn mule:

Don’t look now but the Adam Dunn shift has almost vanished entirely.

Disgusted that he felt good at the plate but had only poor results to show for it, the White Sox slugger dramatically switched his approach in early June. A veteran pull-hitter known for his long-ball prowess, Dunn has worked to become more of a straightaway hitter in his 13th season in the majors.

His well-rounded attack hasn’t just made Dunn a more complete hitter -- it has forced teams to take notice.

The Minnesota Twins, whom the White Sox beat 5-2 at Target Field on Friday, are the fourth straight team to have played Dunn with a straight up defense. Though both of Dunn’s hits on Friday, including his 28th home run, a solo shot, went to the right side, it’s clear the slugger has a more balanced approach at the plate.

"Ever since I started getting shifted, it was like, ‘This is ridiculous,’" Dunn said. "You do everything right and you hit a ball as hard as you can in short right field, where maybe it’s even a double, and it’s an out. But the thing I’ve done for the most part all year is just have been more consistent hitting...This is the best it’s been since I’ve been here."

The numbers back that assessment.

Well, yeah.

But let's begin with Dunn's "well-rounded approach" ... It's real, as the spray chart here demonstrates quite obviously: starting with the second week of June, Dunn's been spraying batted balls all over the field. Especially balls to the outfield, but he's hitting grounders to the opposite side, too.

So it's real ... and it's been pretty fantastic. From the 8th of June through last weekend, Dunn batted .316/.420/.567, which is fantastic. But that's just 62 games, and it's probably instructive to also look at this entire season.

In 2013, Dunn's strikeout percentage, walk percentage, line-drive percentage, and home runs per fly ball mirror his career numbers almost exactly. Based on those alone, we might guess that Adam Dunn has utterly found himself. Which would be good news indeed, considering that he's slated to earn another $15 million next year.

There's one big difference this season, though: the fly balls and the ground balls. Before this season, Dunn's ground-ball rate hadn't been higher than 36 percent since he was a rookie, and his fly-ball rate hadn't been lower than 43.6 percent since he was a rookie.

This year those figures are both 40 percent. He's been hitting significantly more grounders and significantly fewer flies. Which has almost necessarily resulted in fewer home runs than usual. At his best, Dunn averaged 40 home runs per season with a ton of walks. Given his value -- essentially zero -- both in the field and on the bases, he basically has to hit 40 homers with a ton of walks to justify regular playing time. This season he's probably going to fall well short of 40 homers, in part because of his new all-around approach.

And so there's the conundrum. Last year, he had the home runs but not the batting average. This year, he's got the batting average but not the home runs. There was a time when he could have both. But thanks to the ravages of age and modern defensive shifting, it looks like maybe that time is gone and probably not coming back.

Or maybe he's solved it. Maybe these last two months mean more than these last four months. If so, maybe Adam Dunn is a pioneer, leading the way for other sluggardly sluggers to return the game to its natural state, with shortstops playing on the shortstop side of the field and third basemen playing within 50 feet of third base.

Maybe Adam Dunn is going to change everything.

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