An Analysis of Adam Dunn’s Hall of Fame Chances

by Theo Gerome

Another player hit a milestone home run over the weekend. Adam Dunn became the third player this season to hit his 400th career home run on Saturday night. So this is a good time to look at Dunn’s Hall of Fame chances.

To start, there’s obviously the home runs. At 400, he’s already 50th on the all-time list. The only player his age or younger with more is Albert Pujols. He could very obviously be in the top 30 all-time by the time his deal with the White Sox ends after 2015.

His odds on reaching 500 home runs look rather rosy; assuming that he hits ten more this year (which would give him 45 total), the Bill James Career Assessment gives him a 97 percent chance to reach 500, the maximum amount it’ll assign to any outcome. Granted, he could return to his 2011 state. I should mention that, although he seems all better now and it’s probably something we can ignore until we have a reason to stop doing so. Overall, he looks like a more likely candidate to reach the 500 club than Paul Konerko or David Ortiz; it helps that he’s only 32, four years younger than either of those two. As I mentioned when Konerko made the 400 home run club, 500 homers may not be an automatic in to future voters. So what does the rest of Adam Dunn’s case look like?

Well, for the other big hitter milestone, he stands at 1400 hits. 3000 is probably out of the question. Assuming he finishes the season with 112 (he has 88 so far, so 112 seems like a reasonable guess), he probably won’t finish anywhere near that. 2000 wouldn’t be out of the question, though.

Dunn just isn’t a contact hitter. His current batting average of .241 would be lowest among positional Hall members (Ray Schalk at .253 is the current lowest). A lot of the Hall electorate will probably hold that and his massive strikeout total (already 1981 for his career) against him.

That’s a shame, because he still provides a lot of value. In twelve seasons, he already has 1151 walks and a .372 on-base percentage, as well as a .502 slugging percentage. He could very well finish his career in the top 100 in times on base-he already has 2627, 746 shy of 100th all-time. If he finishes the year with 222 times on base, he’ll be on pace for 75th all-time. There isn’t really a magic mark for times on base like there is with hits, but 75th place definitely isn’t bad.

Long story short, Dunn’s been a great hitter. But will that be enough? I don’t think so, at least not at the moment. Too many Hall voters still look at hits and home runs as the end-all, be-all for hitting. Dunn has only one of those two. Additionally, I have a feeling most BBWAA voters also continue to overestimate how bad strikeouts are for hitters, meaning he’ll probably be unfairly dinged there as well.

The only way I can see writers not taking that stance is if a) the electorate body undergoes some changes between now and Dunn’s time on the ballot; or b) Dunn keeps going after he hits 500 home runs and lands on some ridiculous mark. He does have a 29 percent chance at 600 home runs. Maybe he can overwhelm them with just an excess of power, to the point where they don’t feel the need to look at how often he got on base.

And, since he reached the mark in the same year as David Ortiz and Paul Konerko, it’s interesting to look at the three together. Right now, I think Ortiz and Konerko are both underserving of election, and unlikely to end their careers deserving. With Dunn, I’m not so sure.

As of right now, Konerko leads in both counting stats.

Konerko: 2145 hits, 416 home runs
Ortiz: 1861 hits, 401 home runs
Dunn: 1400 hits, 400 home runs

However, there’s a very good case to be made that Konerko is the worst hitter of the three. He doesn’t get on base or hit for power as well as Ortiz or Dunn. OPS+ has Big Papi in the lead, with a 138 mark, followed by Dunn at 126 and Konerko at 122.

Wins Above Replacement for the three is interesting as well. Fangraphs puts Ortiz first, with 38.7 WAR, followed by Konerko (30.4) and Dunn (26.2). Right now, I would bet that Dunn retires leading those two. I would make that same bet in home runs, too, seeing as Dunn is almost equal to their totals in four fewer seasons, and with four fewer years on his odometer.

WAR is all-encompassing, too, which makes for one or two more interesting points. The first one is that you can get negative WAR. Wipe Dunn’s inexplicable, awful 2011 from the books and he jumps up to 29.1 WAR, right on Paul Konerko’s tail. You can’t just ignore 2011, but it’s still interesting to note.

Second, fielding is included. For as bad as Ortiz and Konerko are at fielding, Dunn is worse. How bad? Well, when accounting for fielding, WAR also accounts for how difficult it is to play a position. DH is easier than first base, so DH’ing takes more runs from Big Papi’s value than playing first does from Konerko’s. These two components are separated as positional and fielding. In positional runs, Dunn leads the way due to playing the outfield for so many years.

Ortiz: -177.1
Konerko: -155.9
Dunn: -94.3

Now, in theory, position is accounted for such that moving a player from first base to designated hitter should be an equal move-they’d be docked more runs from their total value, but the position should be that much easier to field. However, Dunn is so bad at fielding that he totally throws the adjustment off.

Ortiz: -12.2
Konerko: -27.6
Dunn: -127.9

Had Dunn been fortunate enough to spend most of his career in the AL (like the other two) where he could DH, he would lost maybe 40 or 50 (or, worst case, 60) runs to his position. However, it would have saved his teams almost 130 runs, or 13 entire wins, in the field. Had Dunn been taken one pick earlier (by the Twins) or later (by the Orioles), he would jump past Konerko in career value to roughly 32 Wins.*

*And that’s assuming the worst case scenario of losing 60 runs to position. 50 or 40 runs could put him closer to 33 or 34.

So, how should we account for those six (or seven, or eight) wins from bad positional/drafting luck? I don’t really know. But six wins can be huge-that’s the difference between, say, Tony Perez and Keith Hernandez, or Willie Stargell and Norm Cash. If he ends up with 575 home runs and a career value closer to Cash and Perez? I might be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Not to say that he’ll get to those marks, necessarily. I hope he does, though, because someone as interesting to watch as he is will be a fun Hall of Fame case to discuss.

This post can also be seen on Hot Corner Harbor here.

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  • Thanks, Theo. This is very interesting stuff. I myself never really considered he’d have a shot at the Hall.

    I’m a Reds fan who argued long and hard for Adam against fellow fans who didn’t get it. In addition to his rep suffering from the old school thinking (and wrong headed comparisons to Dave Kingman, who didn’t get on base like Dunn has), I think the fact that he really is a freak, who doesn’t compare very well with much of anyone historically, hurts his chances. His comparables on Baseball Reference as I recall were pretty low. Not sure how they looks now, as I haven’t checked in a while.

    Anyway, it’s always good to see other folks who appreciate what Adam Dunn does very well and aren’t consumed with what he doesn’t. There aren’t many flawless players, so everyone has to be taken for their strengths and weaknesses.

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