In our discussion of the Nationals'tendency to swing and miss more often in 2010, reader Swooned By June asked specifically about Adam Dunn, and whether I thought it was a bad idea that coach Rick Eckstein had him swinging earlier in counts this year. I was going to respond to him there, but it got to a point where I wrote enough that I thought I'd transform it into a post, instead of a response to a comment.
So thanks, Swoonie, for the idea. Sometimes you guys are the best sources of content. Anyway, here you go:
I'm of the general opinion that coaches get too much credit when things are going well, and too much blame when they go bad. It's why I didn't issue a season-ending grade on them.
Eckstein and Steve McCatty, especially, are going to be subject to this, since they directly oversee two areas of the team. If a team isn't pitching well, it's always easy to say, "Just fire the pitching coach," and sometimes, that happens (Randy St. Claire got fired last year when the team wasn't pitching well).
But then there are players like Michael Morse; did he finally break out because of what Rick Eckstein did, or because he finally got an opportunity to showcase his talent/finally arrived at a point in his development where he was ready to produce?
With Dunn, though, we have fairly concrete evidence of how a changed plate approach worked. His .356 on-base percentage was his lowest since 2003, and his OPS dropped as he swung earlier in counts and saw less pitches (4.11 per at-bat) than he did in 2009 (4.33).
But I don't necessarily think changing the approach was a bad idea. Dunn's big flaw as a hitter, in my mind, has always been his selectiveness; too often, he would look for a walk in a situation where the cleanup hitter is asked to produce. In that sense, he was abdicating his role as the cleanup hitter, and Dunn has also said he's been too selective.
And there were some benefits to the new approach. His 76 extra-base hits (38 homers, 36 doubles, two triples) were his most since 2004, and the 36 doubles were a career high. Dunn got better at being productive when he wasn't hitting homers, and the increase in doubles is worth something. His slugging percentage was also up. But there's a tradeoff, obviously; his OBP dropped substantially.
If the Nationals had a better lineup, though, I'd criticize Dunn more for trying to be more aggressive. With Josh Willingham missing two months, though, that didn't happen. And though Willingham is a skilled hitter, he's nowhere near Dunn's equal as a run producer. So I don't have a big problem with how Dunn and Eckstein changed his approach this year, though one of the effects was a lower OBP.
What do you think about how the new approach worked, now that the season's over? Let me know.