Embrace the Chaos: Adam Dunn

Let’s face it, after a 2019 full of faux pas, unforced errors, glorified tennis balls and myriad scandals simmering just underneath the surface, Hall of Fame talk doesn’t hold the same, sacrosanct place for those of us used to bickering over the merits of x or y. To that end, Bronx to Bushville co-founder Brent Sirvio presents his 2019 IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in serial format: Embrace the Chaos. Leading off, a man ahead of his time, Adam Dunn.

We’re in the beginning stages of a paradigm shift when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. In a time when we’re seeing the collapse in the importance of traditional milestones — 500 home runs doesn’t mean much in an era after tainted ballplayers made 600 look passé, we may never see a career .330 hitter ever again, who knows if we’ll see another 300-win pitcher — those who are tasked with considering ballplayers’ Hall of Fame merits first looked to advanced stats and sabermetrics to champion causes of guys who were overlooked in previous voting cycles.

Now that we’re running out of those guys (and the committees overseeing previous historical epochs are handcuffed by process), there is a new movement afoot.

Instead of milestones or advanced stats, we’re beginning to see voters look at career peaks. And this approach makes sense by correcting three wrongs: One, it doesn’t diminish the work done by all-time career greats; those guys are immortal regardless. Two, it doesn’t overlook the guys who were the best in their era by absolute comparison: think Dale Murphy or Dave Parker, both of whom stand good-to-very-good chances of getting announced Sunday night as inductees by virtue of the Modern Era committee vote. Three, it recognizes that a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, whether they were good for seven, nine, fifteen or twenty years in the game. As career lifespans shorten, our sense of what really matters has necessarily adjusted — or perhaps more to the point is necessarily adjusting — along with.

And that’s why, on my second IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, I’ve picked ten players of 12 available selections. Adam Dunn is one of them.

Wait, Adam Dunn? Seriously?

Yeah.

In this era of nuance and when sabermetrics are all the rage, you’d be surprised how many detractors’ first criticism of Dunn is his career .237 batting average. Or, for those with a cursory sense of advanced stats, his 17.4 career bWAR. Yeah, those numbers aren’t great. But let’s be honest with the premise that traditional standards do not carry the same weight as they have with previous generations of baseball fans and Hall of Fame voters alike.

Carry that through to its natural conclusion and we’re not only not looking at players the same way, but we’re also encouraging a celebration of all sorts of personalities in the Hall of Fame (which the Hall does already, so how is this not a form of moving the goalposts?)

Adam Dunn was a very good player on some very bad Reds teams. The Reds never finished over .500 during his tenure in Cincinnati. He was only a two-time All-Star because of the other first basemen in his league (and division: Jeff Bagwell, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Derrek Lee, Daryle Ward). With Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey, Jr.,  the Reds had their token all-stars already accounted for. Onlookers were awe-struck by Dunn’s triple-digit walk and strikeout season totals, something he did eight times in his 14-year career.

(Bobby Abreu comes in second with six during the same timeframe. Jim Thome had five. Let’s be real: any Jose Cruz can do it once. Even Jack Cust can do it twice.)

Let’s compare nine-year ranges, ages 24-33:

Player A: .275/.363/.508/.870, 270 2B, 292 HR, 1410 H, 677 BB, 2604 TB, 98 GIDP

Player B: .238/.363/.497/.861, 258 2B, 368 HR, 1258 H, 1006 BB, 2632 TB, 79 GIDP

Player A is Reggie Jackson. Player B is Dunn. A strong argument could be made that Reggie Jackson spent the last quarter of his career as a *gasp!* compiler. A compelling argument could also be made that Jackson was patient zero for three true outcomes. Dunn, as shown above, epitomized TTO like no one else in his era.

Fast forward to the present day and we don’t see clubs scared off by high strikeout totals, so long as players are generating offense and keeping the lineup moving in other ways. 11 different players in the last three years have three true outcome’d their way to prominence and all-star/MVP status: Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Carlos Santana, Edwin Encarnacion, Joey Votto, Josh Donaldson, Juan Soto, Matt Carpenter (x2), Mike Trout (x2), Rhys Hoskins and Yasmani Grandal. Dunn, viewed in his time as an outlier, blazed the trail.

Let’s zoom out from his standing as a forerunner and look at the fuller historical context. Running a comparison of those who matched or exceeded Dunn’s nine-year peak for OPS (.861), extra-base hits (632), total hits (1258) and runs created (1029), we have 40 total players. 21 of them are in the Hall of Fame, five others will likely be enshrined (Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Barry Bonds, David Ortiz, Todd Helton), four others are PED culprits (Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro).

The others: Albert Belle, Carlos Delgado, Mark Teixeira, Lance Berkman, Shawn Green, Adrian Gonzalez, Lee, Matt Holliday and Bobby Abreu. All of the named have their Hall of Fame cheerleaders and are to measures of degree causes célèbre. It is on these battlefronts that the paradigm shift with voters will either succeed or fail, and there is no reason Adam Dunn can’t be more central in the fight.

Dunn was ahead of his time, and despite the orthodox figures we’ve been told to eschew, a great ballplayer mired on crummy ball clubs. This is precisely the kind of guy we want to rescue from obscurity.

This, to me, is exactly the kind of Hall of Famer worth fighting for.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.