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How High Can An Average Jump?

Though today's fishwrap story examines Adam Dunn's batting eye and his approach at the plate, it also makes mention of his desire to hit.300 this year. Others, including Manager Manny Acta, believe he can do it. They talk about his natural hitting ability, knowledge of the strike zone, etc., and conclude he has the acuity/coordination of a .300 hitter. Statistical projections, however, make a convincing case that Dunn probably won't do it.

Nate Silver's PECOTA forecasting system gives not just one projection for a player, but a range.

If Adam Dunn has a 50-percentile season, he'll hit .238. Going upward...

60% -- .243
75% -- .258
90% -- .283

PECOTA draws its projections from comparable players. Those most comparable to Dunn, statistically: Troy Glaus, Jim Thome, Mike Epstein, Pat Burrell and Mark McGwire. (Go farther down the comparable list, by the way, and you get some good names -- everyone from Willie Stargell to Tom Brunansky.)

Right now, through 46 at bats, Dunn is hitting .283 -- well above his career .247 average. Never before has his average in a season topped .266. The odds of a player's average -- at age 29 -- suddenly jumping some fifty points? PECOTA doesn't see much hope.

Let's look at the context of comparable players...

Glaus (career .256) has had single-season averages ranging from .284 to .218 -- though it should be noted that he hit .262 at age 30, .270 at age 31.

Thome (career .279) has topped .300 three times in 19 seasons. (At age 24, 25 and 31.)

Epstein, who played from 1966-74, was a career .244 guy who topped out at .278 at age 26.

Burrell (career .257) has full-season averages that range from .282 to .209, with no noticeable upswing as he's reached his prime.

McGwire (career .263) topped .300 in three seasons, but only in years with reduced plate appearances. (84 ABs in 1993, 423 ABs in 1996, and 236 ABs in 2000).

If you want a taste of the other statistical projections for Dunn -- CHONE, Marcel, Bill James, etc. -- click here.

By Chico Harlan  |  April 24, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

Chico--An interesting analysis that points out the dichotomy between the scientific baseball and romantic baseball. If Dunn were to accept the statistical anaysis that he'll never be a .300 hitter, would he continue to strive to be a better hitter?

Posted by: ramgut | April 24, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of BP and PECOTA, did anyone else see Nate Silver last night on Baseball Tonight?

Now THAT is an awkward guy - my wife and I were unbelievably engrossed by how he couldn't answer even a simple question without looking off to the side and mumbling. At the signoff of the show, when all five contributors were standing together, it even looked like some of the others were making fun of him. I couldn't decide if it was a little sad, or unbelievably funny.

Anyway, tangential note over.

Posted by: faNATic | April 24, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Dunn's 162-game averages over his career:

554 ABs, 137 hits, .247 average, 179 Ks.

If he's going to hit .300, he needs to turn 30 of those strikeouts into hits.

Posted by: BobLHead | April 24, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I find this comparison very interesting, although I think that it says more for the eternal search to find relevant, and translatable statistics than it does about Adam Dunn.

For instance:

Epstein played in another era, partially hitting during the period when pitching got so good that the mound had to be lowered.

McGwire played in the steroid era and was, by his own admission, a user. We don't know how the drugs affected his mental approach or ability to maintain during a 164 game season.

Some of this can probably be picked through using era comparison, but not all. Also, you would need to look at how some of the comps matured, mentally as well as physically.

While I am a member of SABR and am convinced that numbers can tell us a lot about a player's results, I am more than a little dubious about using pure stats as a predictor. That is where I attach more value to the human observation part of the pendulum swing.

Posted by: Catcher50 | April 24, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

That being said, Dunn has shown marked improvement so far this year -- historically he has struck out at a remarkable .323 clip. This year, he's at just .239. Small sample size, but if he can keep that number under .270, he's got a shot.

Posted by: BobLHead | April 24, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

well, he's going to have to turn 30 of those *outs* into hits. If he's that skilled a guy, and his walk/homer ability suggests he *might* be, then changing his approach at the plate might do the job. Things like trying for a clean single in certain situations rather than swinging for the fences. (However, in those situations, he might be just as well served by waiting for a pitch he can crush and settling for a walk if need be). Anyway, it's a pretty tall order, but just because nobody's done it before DOES NOT automatically mean that "many people with his particular skillset have had the reason to try, and have failed."

Posted by: Section406 | April 24, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

stats never stand alone. there is always another variable.

Posted by: longterm | April 24, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I'm a lot more impressed with Dunn than I expected. Reading the commenters before and right when he was signed it did sound like he was just a big dufus who either struck out or homered. But I LOVE this other side to him, the patience at the plate and I LOVE how contagious it's become.

And I can't imagine how hard it is to actually BE patient at the plate with those pitches screaming by you. I know my heart rate goes up a bit when the count is 0-2 and I'm just watching. But for him, and the others, I'm amazed when they can sit on that and eek out an 8-10 pitch at-bat from 0-2. I have a whole boat load of respect for it.

And let me tell you, Dukes is probably the last guy I'd imagine would have that kind of patience. Makes me like him even more that he does.

Off topic: it looks like the team took advice from here. From Phil Wood's blog on masn online.

"I'm told the misspelled Dunn and Zimmerman shirts will be auctioned off at the Nationals' Dream Gala 2009 on May 2 at the Gaylord National Resort."

Posted by: NatsNut | April 24, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

@Catcher50

I know it's semantics and all, but McGwire never admitted to using steroids, and he never tested positive for them.
Yes, he may have intimated at it, but he never admitted it.

Posted by: Section138 | April 24, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

NatsNut, the Cinci folks soured on Dunn much like many here have soured on Kearns. He failed to live up to expectations (such as, being a .300-hitting MVP candidate instead of what he is, which is a .250-hitting AL DH-type).

Posted by: BobLHead | April 24, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

The guy has an on-base percentage of a bazillion, and we're worried over whether he can hit .300?

Watch out for the trees when you're running through the forest.

Posted by: Uncle_Teddy | April 24, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of Kearns (and I'm one of his aunts), his 162-game averages are .259/.354/.436, with 22 homers and 87 RBIs. He's never going to be the .280/30/100 guy we hoped for three years ago but .260/20/80 with plus defense is a fine outfielder. That being said, you don't win pennants with "fine" players alone, you need 2-3 superstars to go with them. So far we don't have any of those.

Posted by: BobLHead | April 24, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

On Saturday when we face the Mets, a 12-year old girl will throw out the first pitch. A girl who just threw a perfect game against a team of boys in little league. The story is here:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=4094898

Sign her up!

Posted by: BobLHead | April 24, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I could be wrong but my observation is that more than the average of Dunn's K's come while looking at strike 3.

If he can find a way to waste some of those borderline pitches that he sees in the 0-2 and 1-2 counts then he may get a few more straight ones, the K's should go down and he will put more balls into play and get closer to his goal of .300

Posted by: dmacman88 | April 24, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Chico - great article. I'm not sure Dunn's ever going to be a .300 hitter, because he'd probably have to trade not only K's but also some number of BB's for hits - in short, he'd have to swat more singles. In some sense, I think that's kind of a misplaced priority - I would love for him to say that he wants to be a .400 OBP guy or a 1.000 OPS guy - 1.000 OPS is actually probably harder than .300 BA, but he's actually got the skillset - huge power, good OBP - to make a run at it. .450 OBP would be a stretch, but he's done a couple years of .550 SLG.

Honestly, though, let the Dunnkey be the Dunnkey - .390-ish OBP, .510-ish SLG and that sweet, sweet grinder of an AB combined with the LF adventures will be fine.

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | April 24, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Not meaning to pick on NatsNut or anyone in particular, but her post may speak more generally to the idea of the influence (or lack thereof) of blog comments. We all have our points of view and, of course, the right to have and voice our opinions, but I've always preferred to see something/someone for myself before forming mine. I've also been impressed with Dunn since he came to DC.

On a related note, I'd not had previous experience with Dibble before he came to MASN, and I recall that many were panning him before he'd ever worked a Nats game. As previously noted, I like what I've been hearing from him, and it seems that many naysayers are coming around on him as well.

Perhaps there's something to be said for withholding judgment until one can see and judge for oneself? Nah, it's the Internet! :-D

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 24, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

That was a great story, BobL. Saw a bit about it on MLB Network. The added bonus is that the opposing team was male. Girrrrlllll Power! ;-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 24, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

McGwire never admitted to steroids and never tested positive.

He did admit to Androstenedione. Which is a precursor and was legal at the time as an over the counter supplement. It is not legal anymore.

Posted by: comish4lif | April 24, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Bobl, I'm with you on Kearns - I want him to be useful, but I'm afraid that the reality of it is that he's not what we thought he was when they traded for him. I never hoped for the .280/30/100 (to use the old-school line) - I hoped for .850-ish OPS that he had put up previously, and it just hasn't materialized. He's .901 now, but that's a real limited sample. I'm just afraid he's more of a .790 OPS guy, which is basically not even a "fine" outfielder - it's more of a "meh" outfielder, or a "fine" 4th guy. Keep in mind, we gave up a lefty .810 OPS guy to get a guy in AAA and keep a spot for Kearns. Willingham and Church are basically the same guy, but really, every AB Kearns takes from Willingham is probably a mistake. Right now, I think our best OF is Willingham-Dukes-Dunn (though not our best defensive OF), and I'd really like to see Maxwell get regular ABs as a 4th OF/defensive replacement.

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | April 24, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

FaNATic, I saw a little of Silver on BB tonight. Awkward to say the least. He did a fair number of spots on cable news shows during the election and seemed more comfortable then - perhaps because he was in a studio alone looking at a camera. His fivethirtyeight.com political polling website is very interesting and refreshing, he doesn't answer the same old questions with the same old answers. And I love the notion that a baseball stat geek can provide insight to public affairs using a similar analytical approach.
Geezer

Posted by: utec | April 24, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Re Kearns, most of his numbers were put up in Cincy, which skews them. What are his 162 game numbers since becoming a National?

Posted by: slewis1 | April 24, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of Kearns (and I'm one of his aunts), his 162-game averages are .259/.354/.436, with 22 homers and 87 RBIs. He's never going to be the .280/30/100 guy we hoped for three years ago but .260/20/80 with plus defense is a fine outfielder. That being said, you don't win pennants with "fine" players alone, you need 2-3 superstars to go with them. So far we don't have any of those.

Posted by: BobLHead | April 24, 2009 10:11 AM
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Agreed on the offense of Kearns, but I don't see him as any more than an average RF. Average speed too. Good arm.

Like you said, this team needs some true Superstars and Alfonso Soriano is the only true superstar this team has had since they came to Washington.

Zim, Dukes, Dunn, and Guzy are all above average and Nick is having a great start to the season. The other 3 positions have been average to below average.

Philly has 3 superstars in RyHo, Utley, and JRoll and solid pitching. The Mets have Reyes and Wright and inconsistent pitching. The Marlins have Hanley and Uggla (above average) and good pitching. The Braves have Chipper Jones and inconsistent pitching.

Looking at the Rays and the Marlins, there is still hope that a team that is above average in 6 to 7 positions with good pitching can make it to the playoffs with maybe 1 superstar.

Posted by: dmacman88 | April 24, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of Silver on BBTN, does anyone have any thoughts about how the Baseball Network has caused the folks in Bristol to make more of an effort? I have rarely watched BBTN this season as I am enjoying the Baseball Network programming more and think they are doing a better job, but when I have watched ESPN, I've noted that it seems like they are trying harder. They are also running more than a 20 minute show nightly, which seemed to be the case a lot last year.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | April 24, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Geezer, I'm with you. I certainly don't presume to disparage his impressive work in the baseball and other realms. I think it's all pretty interesting, actually.

I guess our thought was that while he may be (and apparently is) an extraordinarily smart guy, he's not great TV material at all, at least not for the BBTN format. They would have been better served conveying his analysis in some other way because the awkwardness was borderline unwatchable due to the unintentional comedy factor. Sorry Nate.

Posted by: faNATic | April 24, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

"I have rarely watched BBTN this season as I am enjoying the Baseball Network programming more and think they are doing a better job, but when I have watched ESPN, I've noted that it seems like they are trying harder."

I caught a few minutes of BBTN the other day, and I can report that John Kruk is not trying any harder. He still hates the Nats, but obviously has absolutely no clue what the team is up to. He was seriously arguing that (a) the team is absolutely horrid in every respect and indeed even worse than last year, yet (b)they had no business signing Dunn or doing any of the other things they did during the offseason to try and improve.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 24, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I actually get a kick out of seeing Silver on TV - he isn't classic TV material for sure, and quirkyness appeals to me. A Geek with something to say rather than a blow-dried personality reading a script. I didn't see enough of BBTN to have more of an opinion on his behavior last night. Even if this is the internet.
Geezer

Posted by: utec | April 24, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

It's less likely that Dunn would *turn* 30 of his K's into hits to reach the magical .300 BA.

It's more likely that he'd turn 100 of his walks into 33 hits and 67 outs. add another 10 hits from the 30 K's that are gone (all assuming the standard .300 BABIP)

When it's all said and done, this makes Dunn LESS valuable. The only change that needs to be made is to stop using BA (At least for Dunn) and put his OBP up on the big screen.

Posted by: traderkirk | April 24, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Hey, if he hits over 40 HR's this year, I don't care if he hits .245. He's be worth the money.

Posted by: charley42 | April 24, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Mike Epstein!? Mike Epstein! Now that's a blast from the past. Pecota would have produced an anomaly with the late sixties early seventies Senators. Teddy "Ballgame" Williams. Perhaps the best hitting instructor, (and last almost consistently close to or at .400 POWER hitter in the majors), was the manager. Eddie Brinkman, Ken McMullen, Aurelio Rogriguez, Frank Howard, and Mike Epstein were suddenly getting on base, more walks, higher BA's. Lumbering Frank Howard skirting .300 BA. Unfortunately, the owner was a bit like Dan "Snidely Owl" Snyder.

Posted by: priestholmes | April 24, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

>If Dunn were to accept the statistical anaysis that he'll never be a .300 hitter, would he continue to strive to be a better hitter?

No, he'll give up and go home like all of the geeks who have that mentality. 'Stats say I can't do it so I won't try lol

Posted by: Brue | April 24, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

I didn't have cable tv before this year and so didn't see that much of Baseball Tonight before then. Thus, I can't really make a call on any perceived changes in the change in the program. I will say that I love MLB Network. I hardly ever watch the ESPN channels, being pretty much an all baseball, all the time type.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 24, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

BTW, there are several new posts up.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 24, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

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