And yet, Dunn struggled to find work last offseason when he became a free agent (he didn't officially sign with the Nationals until February 12). This should have come as no surprise to even the most casual Adam Dunn follower. Dusty Baker never appreciated his skill set and J.P. think he's a useless slacker. Heck, even Jason Varitek unintentionally took a shot at Big Donkey.
But it is not as though nobody except his mother likes him. Sabermetric-minded fellows, ranging from the casual and hilarious to the serious and boring (just kidding, I absolutely love THT) have defended Dunn from every jab taken at him. Even we at Game Of Inches have defended the Big Donkey in the past.
But is Adam Dunn underrated?
True, Adam Dunn is a great offensive player (career .384 wOBA), but he's also an equally atrocious fielder, a fact this is often glossed over (as it was in the introductory paragraph to this post). Winning baseball games, if boiled down to the most simplistic mathematical formula, is a differential between Runs Created and Runs Allowed. A run gained with a bat is equally as valuable as the run prevented with the glove.
It is with this maxim in mind that I point out the follow fact which probably eludes the casual Dunn fan: Adam Dunn has been a sub-3 WAR player since 2005. He's been a sub-2 WAR player in all of those seasons except 2007. Over the past two years, Dunn has cumulatively worth under 2.5 WAR. By contrast, B.J. Upton, Andy LaRoche, Miguel Tejada and even Paul Konerko were more valuable in 2009 than Dunn has been cumulatively over the past two seasons. Last season, despite creating 35.5 runs more than the average player with his bat, Dunn was a meager +1.2 WAR player thanks to the 36.3 runs his glove cost the Nationals. Omar Vizquel, who only played 62 games last year, was worth +1.2 WAR.
Yeah, Adam Dunn is that bad at fielding.
Fangraphs values Dunn's +1.2 WAR performances in 2008 and 2009 at just over $5 million in terms of free agency dollars. And yet, the world of baseball was shocked when Dunn was "only" able to sign a contract for 2-years, $20 million. Dunn was paid $8 million last season and is set to earn $12 million this season. Even if Dunn's fielding, which has been on the decline since 2004, is half as bad as it was this season, he will be, assuming that his offensive production remains steady, a +3ish WAR player. In terms of free agency dollars, a 3.0 WAR season would be worth approximately $13.5 million next season. If this is the case, then Dunn would have been "overpaid" by $1 million by the Nationals over the life of his contract -- not bad, essentially market value.
So I beckon the same question again: is Adam Dunn really underrated? Or is he just so underrated that he has become overrated (or at least adequately rated)? What is clear is that Adam Dunn belongs in the AL, playing DH (where players get a -17.5 positional adjustment to their batting line, half of Dunn's negative fielding impact).
Valuable Post Script:
As a RF, Dunn's cumulative batting and fielding production gets a -7.5 positional adjustment (UZR measures all defense equally; Fangraphs accounts for differences in fielding difficulty between positions in WAR calculations thru positional adjustments). As a DH, Dunn would get a flat -17.5 positional adjustment and a zero fielding rating. In other words, as a DH, Dunn just get -17.5 runs subtracted from his batting line. As a RF (or LF, for that matter), Dunn gets -7.5 subtracted from his batting line in addition to his lackluster fielding. Thus Dunn, like anyone with a consistent -10 or worse fielding glove at RF/LF, belongs in a DH role.
I'm placing a "Quintessential Sabermetrics Argument" tag on this post because it underlines the unheralded importance of fielding.