Assessing Adam Dunn’s Pitching Ability

By Murphy Powell

Last night Adam Dunn pitched against the Texas Rangers while his team, the White Sox of Chicago, was losing 15-0. You may know Dunn as a slugging outfielder/first baseman who walks and strikes out a ton.

Well get ready to know him as a pitcher.

First, the simple stats: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 0 K, 1 BB, 1 ER

If the goals for Dunn and his manager Robin Ventura were to “stop the bleeding,” I’m not sure he came through. If their goals were to entertain the baseball world, mission accomplished.

An ERA of 9.00 isn’t great for a reliever – or anyone, for that matter – and giving up two hits every inning isn’t something that very good pitchers usually do. Small sample size, sure, but those don’t make Dunn look great.

As far as looking at the more advanced numbers, Dunn’s walks per 9 rate of 9.0 and his walk percentage 16.7% are cause for concern. Sure, that walk rate isn’t something outrageous like Mike Carp’s, but it isn’t great.

His FIP (6.14) and xFIP (8.65) suggest he was a little unlucky last night, but I have to disagree. Dunn very well might have achieved one of his childhood – and perhaps one he’s carried through adulthood – dreams of being a Major League pitcher. Unlucky? Maybe in terms of actual pitching, yes, but that’s not the way I’m seeing it.

I’ll move now to his PITCHf/x numbers, which are certainly interesting. The first things I notice are his pitch type numbers. PITCHf/x says Dunn threw 4.6% cutters and the same amount of sliders, and 90.9% (!!!) changeups. Of course, few pitchers are that reliant on their changeup, and when we look at Dunn’s pitch values, we find that he probably shouldn’t be either.

His changeup and cutter both have values of -2.81 per 100 pitches, which are sub-par, to say the least. His slider, however, looked great. It has a value per 100 pitches of 6.72, which would put him at the top of that leaderboard by a huge margin if he were a qualified pitcher.

Dunn’s velocity didn’t really impress either, unfortunately. His changeup averaged 80.6 mph, the slider was a 76.5 and the cutter was at 74.4. Dunn seems like a junkballer, so maybe he would have some value as a late-inning change of pace from a few of the harder throwers in the White Sox bullpen.

He worked at a tremendous pace last night, with his average time between pitches at 17.0 seconds, which is faster than the league leader Mark Buehrle. No doubt his infielders love it, and they’ll have to with batters’ 100% contact rate against Dunn. That’s right: Dunn didn’t miss a single bat last night, and that’s a little troubling.

What he did do was get ahead of hitters. His 83.3% first pitch strike rate would lead all qualified pitchers, if Dunn was one of those, and puts him at seventh in the league among pitchers who have at least gotten on the mound. If you look at the first pitch strike rate leaderboard for qualified guys, you’ll see the top of the list is filled with All-Stars. I’d like to hope that is an indication of what Dunn will be, but I think it might be a little fluky.

So there are some things – the first pitch strike rate, the value of his slider – that are quite impressive about Dunn’s outing. But the negatives – the 100% contact rate, the low velocity, basically every other thing that I haven’t listed – seem to outweigh the positives here.

I’m not normally in the business of crushing dreams, but I don’t think Adam Dunn – sweet, sweet Adam Dunn – has much of a future as a big league pitcher.

Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley, and he can’t believe he just spent time writing this. You can follow him on Twitter @MurphyPowell.

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