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To swing or not to swing?

May 6, 2010, 6:40 PM EST

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Dunn watches strike three pass by in the ninth inning last night.

Adam Dunn saw 24 pitches over the span of five plate appearances last night. He swung at five of them, only one of the final 15 he faced.

There were plenty of contributing factors in the Nationals' 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Braves, and there's no telling whether Dunn would have made a difference had he taken the bat off his shoulder at some point. But it is fair to question the slugger's penchant for being overly patient at the plate, something we've seen repeatedly over the last season-plus.

The critical at-bat for Dunn last night was his final one, which came with one out and no one on in the ninth inning of a tie game. Would his presence on base have been helpful? Sure. He would have represented the tie run, and had he drawn a walk, he could have been driven in by Ivan Rodriguez or Cristian Guzman.

But Dunn also could have won the game all by himself had he connected on any of the five fastballs Atlanta reliever Kris Medlen threw his way. Instead, he watched all five pitches whiz by, including two straight strikes to end the at-bat.

Dunn is being paid $12 million this season, most of anyone on the Nationals roster, to produce runs. Sometimes that can be via his lofty on-base percentage (which at the moment is .386). More often, though, he is being asked to produce runs by putting the ball in play.Read more »

  1. Anonymous - May 6, 2010 at 6:52 PM

    With two strikes you HAVE to expand your zone to anything close, and especially be aware of that game's empire's strike zone.

  2. raymitten - May 6, 2010 at 7:04 PM

    How about relaxing Dunn by giving him his contract? Zimmerman took off after his contractual issues were resolved; Dunn would do the same in my opinion.

  3. Scooter - May 6, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    Yeah, it'd be great if Dunn could take a different approach from time to time — as long as the new approach succeeds, and he doesn't mess up that incredible plate discipline for his other at-bats. Right now, he doesn't seem to think he can do it … which of course means he *can't* do it, and no amount of wishing from you or me is gonna make him into a different ballplayer.Lookit, the Nats got a prodigious slugger who makes his living patiently waiting for *his* pitch. And he made the team much better. There's absolutely nothing wrong with hoping for players to improve or grow, so go ahead and do that. But just make sure you don't overly criticize Adam Dunn for the very patience that makes him so good.

  4. Natsochist - May 6, 2010 at 7:35 PM

    I love his patience and his willingness to avoid flailing at everything like a number of sluggers in MLB. That said, one of the first lessons you learn playing baseball (even in Little League!) is to protect the plate when you have two strikes.Tony Gwynn was probably the master of this tactic. I can't count the number of times I'd see him foul off pitch after pitch with two strikes, waiting for one that he could rip for a base hit. You don't need to start flailing to protect with two strikes; you just need to focus on making contact.

  5. Doc - May 6, 2010 at 7:54 PM

    Mark, I'd like to know what Eckstein thinks. Maybe you've already talked to him on the side. The Little League stuff about protecting the strike zone on two strikes, yeah not only did they say that, it also makes sense. At some point the offensive side of baseball is getting a hit.Dunn has to understand with two strikes, the pitcher is going to try to find somewhere on the plate to land the ball. Gwynn, that's how he got to 3,000. Watching Pudge, he does some of the same thing. He hits some amazing pitches that a lot of batters just watch for a 3rd strike.

  6. Scooter - May 6, 2010 at 7:55 PM

    Just to make it clear for the kids at home, Natsochist, you and I basically agree: it would be fabulous if Dunn could turn into Gwynn with two strikes. (It'd also be okay with me if he turned into Raines when he reaches first, but hey.)

  7. Mythical Monkey - May 6, 2010 at 8:08 PM

    Be careful what you wish for — instead of becoming Ted Williams, a more free-swinging Adam Dunn might very well morph into Dave Kingman, who finished his career with 442 homers and a career .302 on-base percentage.Ten years in the majors is like ten years of marriage. Dunn is what he is, you're never going to change him, and so, as Ann Landers would say, are you better off with him or without him? You gotta figure the Nats are better off with him, flaws and all, than they'd be with whoever is available to replace him.

  8. An Briosca Mor - May 6, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    If Dunn gets a reputation for changing his plate approach once he has two strikes on him, eventually he'll quit getting any good pitches to hit once the count gets to two strikes. And he'll start striking out more. He either needs to change his approach to every pitch, or not change it at all.

  9. The Great Unwashed - May 6, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    raymitten, I have to disagree that one way to make Dunn relax is to give him a contract. This is the kind of player he is, regardless of his contract status.I saw a story (on ESPN, I think) a few years ago about Dunn's approach at the plate. The analyst was critical of him because he said Dunn absolutely refuses to change his approach at the plate. That's why he strikes out a lot and his career batting average is about .250. The analyst also said good hitters can adjust to different pitches, but Dunn is either unwilling or unable.If anything, he's not exactly proving to the Nats that he's worth an extension. I don't mean to be down on Dunn; he's brought a lot of good to the team. But he's in a contract year, either with the Nats or another team. Most players overachieve during their walk year because they're making their case to potential suitors. But Dunn is not playing well right now and the Nats are winning despite him. He's not exactly making a strong case for a contract extension.I'm sure the Nats knew this when they signed him, but they also don't seem in a hurry to extend him, and to me, that's very telling. Again, I'm not trying to be overly critical of Dunn because he's a legitimate power threat and he draws a lot of walks. But I also understand why he may not be on this team next year.Then again, I could be wrong.

  10. Anonymous - May 6, 2010 at 8:34 PM

    "it would be fabulous if Dunn could turn into Gwynn with two strikes."If he does that, he'll just start singling – which really is not all that much better than walking. Especially if there aren't runners in scoring position. What you guys are asking for is for him to hit like Tony Gwynn, except for situations when he needs to hit like Ryan Howard. Not sure you can get both things in the same player.

  11. Scooter - May 6, 2010 at 8:50 PM

    I guess that's what I get for being polite — now I'm being quoted as the guy who doesn't like Dunn's current approach.





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