I didn’t think Adam Dunn would stink last season. I don’t think he will stink this season. It seems impossible that a guy could average 40 homers for seven seasons, then turn historically horrible.
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Well, it happened. Dunn thinks he knows why it happened. But three different people with the Chicago White Sox used the same phrase — unprompted — when talking about Dunn’s 2011 season.
New team. New role. Big contract. Big market.
Greater expectations. An early-season appendectomy. And manager Ozzie Guillen, who mostly refrained from criticizing Dunn publicly, but never has led the league in positive reinforcement.
“It’s over,” Dunn says. “That was the good thing about the first day of spring. It was probably a little more exciting for me than everyone else. I knew people would eventually start talking about this year, not last.”
Eventually, but not yet. Not until the season starts. Not until Dunn starts hitting like Dunn, rather than the guy who batted .159 last season — .064 against left-handers — and produced only 11 homers and 42 RBI.
How bad was Dunn?
According to Baseball Prospectus 2012, “there have been 2,300 qualifying player-seasons where a batter slugged over .500, and last year Dunn became the first to follow up such a year by slugging under .300.”
Still, Dunn is only 32. This will be his second season as a full-time designated hitter. And he and his teammates are basking in the White Sox’s version of “Peace In Our Time,” also known as year one of the post-Ozzie era.
No one knows if the White Sox will be any good after trading their closer, Sergio Santos, and right fielder, Carlos Quentin. But under new manager Robin Ventura, they are certain to be a lot quieter. Dunn is unabashed in his praise for Ventura, and also fond of new bench coach Mark Parent and hitting coach Jeff Manto.
“It’s unbelievable,” Dunn says. “I didn’t know who most of these guys are. I had never met ‘em. But it’s almost like they handpicked ‘em (for us). They’re laid-back, a breath of fresh air. They’re great, so far. It’s subject to change. But I don’t see that happening.”
The expectations for the White Sox are low, and the team — 3-9 in the Cactus League — is not exactly drawing raves for its play this spring. But the Sox will be better than people think if their three biggest disappointments in ’11 — Dunn, outfielder Alex Rios and right-hander Jake Peavy — bounce back to their normal career levels.
Granted, it’s a lot to ask. But Dunn, tortured by his performance last season, appears hellbent on making the second year of his four-year, $56 million free-agent contract better than his first.
“I’m seeing a guy who is extremely eager and extremely hungry,” Manto says. “The best part about it is that he has taken full responsibility to put it in the past.”
It took a while.
After the season ended, Dunn retreated with his family to his ranch in Buffalo, Texas, two hours north of Houston. But even at his local country club, he found no peace.
“As soon as I get back to the club and play golf, everyone was like, ‘What happened? What happened?’” Dunn recalls. “That’s all people would talk about. I was like, ‘The heck with this. I’m going back to the ranch.’”
He knew what had happened. He knew full well.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Dunn says. “You’re not doing your job. When you’re not doing your job, you’re letting everyone down in here. Your teammates expect a lot of you.
“Not that I don’t expect a lot out of myself. I do. But every day, I was like, ‘I’ve got to get going. If I get going, our team will get going.’ Last year was a disaster year for me, but for the team, too.
“If I don’t have that happen, I think we had a chance to get into the playoffs. Actually, I know we did.”
Dunn probably is exaggerating — the White Sox finished 79-83, third in the AL Central, 16 games behind the division champion Detroit Tigers. But he got back to work earlier this offseason, hit more than he did in the past.
To hear Dunn tell it, his problems were mostly mechanical. He is not one for excuses. He doesn’t talk about how he rushed back from his appendectomy in early April, missing only six days. He doesn’t talk about the difficulty of adjusting to the DH role, or anything like that.
“Last year, I was worried about the wrong things as far as where my hands are,” Dunn says. “Ninety percent of what happened was simple, mental. I got lazy with my legs. That’s what happened, pretty much. I worried about everything else but that.
“I was worried about my hands instead of getting my legs in good position. Next thing you know, I’m standing straight up in the air and trying to use all upper body. If I get my legs in position and use my lower half, it gets everything lined up.”
Sounds simple. Maybe it is that simple.
I’m sorry, I just don’t think Adam Dunn will stink again.