And it’s a great one for the White Sox. It is being reported that the White Sox have just signed Adam Dunn to a 4 year contract for $56 million. For $14M, Dunn steps right in as the American League’s best designated hitter. Not only that, but he does it for a team that got the least production of any team from the DH position in the American League. Check this out:
White Sox designated hitters had 45 extra base hits last season. Adam Dunn has hit at least 38 home runs and 63 extra base hits every season since 2004. Even though it seems like he’s been around forever, Dunn just turned 31 in November, meaning the White Sox have only committed to him through his age 34 season, so he is likely to retain much of his value. The change from the easier National League will probably cost him a few points of batting average, but moving from Nationals Park to the smaller Comiskey Park should allow him to keep his power, and moving into an improved lineup will help his RBI and run totals significantly (meaning you may want to consider drafting him in fantasy or holding onto him in a keeper league).
How much will he improve the White Sox? Well, Dunn was nice enough to make the math easy for us by having almost exactly the same number of plate appearances as the White Sox DH position. By my calculations, White Sox DHs were worth 76 runs, and Dunn was worth 95, so the simple answer is “about 19.” But, wait, there’s more! Of those 76 runs, 26 of them were created by Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin, the starting 1B and RF, respectively. So 1/3 of the White Sox DH value was provided by players needed at other positions. Dunn isn’t the butcher some portray him as at 1B and can exist in the outfield, so he’ll be able to play on the days Quentin and whoever is playing 1B for Chicago need days off from the field.
Beyond that, Dunn had a .356 OBP last year, and a .381 mark for his career. The difference came mostly from a drop-off in walks - only 77 last year, after walking over 100 times in his last 7 qualified seasons. Whether that drop-off was an aberration or a loss of skill is important, as those 25 points of OBP are huge over the course of a season, and a loss of this skill could represent significant decline. Looking deeper into the numbers, Dunn was seeing slightly fewer pitches per plate appearance, looking at 4.11 last year, compared to between 4.2 and 4.4 in previous ones, so there was a slight drop-off, but not a huge one. The biggest change was on 3-2 pitches where pitchers seemed to be much more aggressive with Dunn. In 2009, Dunn went .159/.537/.293 on 3-2, while in 2010, he went .176/.402/.400. Pitchers were giving up a little bit of power for more outs. In the White Sox lineup, on a better team, Dunn should be coming up with runners on base in a close, important game a bit more often, making that choice harder for pitchers when they get deep into counts. When a pitcher is leading 7-3 and nobody is on base, it makes sense to be aggressive and try to get outs. Leading 5-4 with runners on first and second, and the situation is totally different - a pitcher would rather walk Dunn than give up the 3 run homer.
I'll split the difference and call part of the drop off a drop in skill/change in approach by Dunn, and call the other part a more aggressive approach by pitchers, and say that Dunn will draw in the 90 walks range this year, getting an OBP to around .370-.375. This represents close to 40 points higher than White Sox DH's last year, meaning he'd be making outs 12% less frequently. That means the hitters AFTER Dunn will have a 12% better chance of doing something before the third out is made.
So let’s put Dunn’s value over who he is replacing at about 42 runs (19 on his own, plus 30%, or 8 runs of Konerko and Quentin’s contribution, plus 15 runs that other guys in the lineup will have opportunities to provide). That represents three to four wins over the course of the season. That won’t be enough on its own to push Chicago in front of Minnesota as the best team in the AL Central, but they have corrected their biggest problem, and done so at a reasonable cost.