Nationals Baseball: One thing on Dunn's fielding...

Friday, September 10, 2010

One thing on Dunn's fielding...

I'm reading a lot of "well Dunn's actually fielding ok this year..." type of comments to justify signing him for additional years. While technically correct, these are probably misguided.

Just because Dunn is having an average year in the field does not mean he is an average fielder.

The same UZR that has him as -1.9 this year (just barely below average) had him at -14.3 last year (terrible). This isn't that surprising. Current fielding statistics are notoriously variable from year to year. You are meant to look at them across a couple years or so to get a good idea of how well a player fields. Dunn's been pretty terrible at first, in admittedly limited play, since 2005. This agrees with the general opinion of most scouts.

You can take this in one of two ways. Either you can believe that this year is a fluke, the fielding equivalent of a Pudge's .400 start to 2010. In that case you'd expect next year Adam will once again struggle in the field. On the other hand, you can believe this is the end result of an effort to make himself better at a much easier position to hide his faults.

If you believe the former, then the move to a Derek Lee or Carlos Pena makes a good deal of sense. Even if, like me, you don't think it should happen. (If in the end it gets you about the same amount of "wins" - I'd rather have sucky fielding and 40 bombs for 12 million a year, than good/ok fielding and someone hitting .200 or having only 15 homers for something like 5 million. I consider it a 7 million dollar investment in fun. Smart spending to some is cheapness to others).

If you believe the latter, then it's true that it makes no sense to not resign Dunn. He'd be a top 5 first baseman in the NL. However, you have to understand you are taking the bigger gamble. You are betting on Dunn repeating a passable defensive performance something that he hasn't had previously since his rookie year in the OF.


Bryan said...

A bird in hand ...

Mythical Monkey said...

I agree with Bryan. A lot of the discussion of whether to sign Dunn or not is predicated on the assumption that the Nats will be able to sign a replacement. It's just as likely we'll wind up going into 2011 with Willingham or Morse at first without a substantial upgrade in the outfield -- a case not of addition by subtraction but plain old subtraction.

The only guy we know for sure who wants to play here is Dunn. I think I can live with his 40 homers/100+ RBI a year.

Bryan said...

Mythical Monkey expounds on my point perfectly.

The only way you can let Dunn go is if you are 100% absolutely certain you can get his replacement.

And I'd add that it seems somewhat silly to replace one flawed 1B with another flawed 1B. You aren't really upgrading the entire position, your just upgrading one part of the position at the detriment of another. Sure, Dunn's fielding may be an issue. But in 10 months when we are all complaining because Lee is hitting .220 with 10 homers, we'll be looking for his replacement.

That isn't the way to build a championship team. We don't have the talent yet to be nit-picking over whether we want fielding or power at 1B, and we certainly don't have the talent to be wasting time calculating scheming to replace the talented players we have.

All our energy should be going into finding an OF and maybe one or two other positions. Every minute we waste trying to replace a perfectly good option is one less minute we have to find the replacement to one our real problems.

Nate said...

Of course, the "problem" with Dunn isn't really 2011 at all. No matter how he performs defensively next season he'd probably be worth a 1 year, $15M commitment. I'm not sure if you can say the same of 2012, 13... 14. If his offense slips he could easily become Carlos Pena or Derek Lee without the average or better glove.

Offer Adam arbitration? That's a no-brainer. A 4-year $50-60M contract is another thing entirely. That's the decision the front office is weighing, not whether Dunn will outperform Lee or Pena in 2011.

DezoPenguin said...

Absolutely. Management shouldn't even be wasting time arguing over the question of whether to replace the second-best player in the everyday lineup with someone who will be a marginal replacement at best.

(You can ask the Red Sox how well the whole "replace one of the lineup's best hitters with a weaker hitter but superior fielder" idea worked out--and Dunn is a heck of a lot more likely to duplicate his 2009 performance than Jason Bay was to duplicate his 2008 performance.)

Anonymous said...

Nate, Harper - it seems to me that there's a majorly overlooked point in "the average or better glove" of Lee and/or Pena. Just like folks are worrying (and right to be worried) whether Dunn's apparently-not-so-terrible-D this year holds up, they should also be worrying about whether Pena or Lee's D holds up as well as whether they really are that much better to begin with. It's not so simple as trading a certain amount of Dunn's Homerliciousness for X amount of range.

Harper's right of course that we should look at UZR and otehr such stuff over multiple years. Pena's UZR/150 over his entire career at 1b is -2.5. His UZR/150 this year is -2.6. Last year it was -6.1. I don't see the significant defensive upgrade that's supposed to give me a warm feeling about letting Dunn take his 35-40 HRs elsewhere. That's to say nothing of Pena's profound offensive dropoff this year in his age 33 season. DLee is a different case, of course - his defensive numbers are really an upgrade, but a. his dropoff is even worse, b. he's older still, and c. I haven't seen anybody associated with the team say they are interested in Lee. In either case, you'd be betting on bounce-back season from a guy in his mid-30s.

At the end of the day, I don't think it makes any sense on any basis other than if you massively overvalue the runs saved by a good 1b. The Nats are 40 runs below-average on offense this year and 30 runs on defense - I fail to see how taking away Dunn's contribution to the offense works, unless you think you're saving a truly massive number of runs on defense, which seems to me like a fundamental miscalculation.

Harper said...

Bryan / Dezo - It's not just flawed for flawed. As Nate alludes, it could be a 4 year commitment at 50-60mill, vs a 1 or 2 yr commitment at 10-20mill. That has to be considered. If it were just Dunn vs these jabronies in 2011 you'd be silly not to bet on Dunn.

Of course if they DON'T spend the money toward Dunn it HAS to go elsewhere. There's no prizes for marginal wins per dollar.

Nate - I'd like to hear of a 3 year 30-35 million dollar deal on the table with a buyout / team option for a 4th. Nats admit they are getting a deal on Dunn's production but show they are willing to give Dunn an extra year. How's that sit with you. I'm really not as worried about 2012. I think he is more of a .265 than a .240 hitter which gives him an edge on a Pena type hitter, who's about to "average" himself right out of the game.

Anon- well I guess the Nats are thinking in a regular year the Nats might lose another 10 runs to Adam's defense. And that's not even considering what it might be like 4 years from now.

I agree though - I think Pena (who the Nats "love") is a bad gamble. TO me his fancy numbers scream "going off a cliff" (whereas Lee is more of "bad year")

Marc (was Anon) said...

Harper - I agree, if you're going to gamble, I'd gamble on Lee. His D looks ok this year, but I worry about his back.

Still, though, even if you think Dunn's going to give 10 runs away on D, even if you think he's going to give away 15 - I don't see how his 30-40 run offensive doesn't more than offset that. FWIW, the FanGraphs folks crowdsourced what his contract might be and the median results were 3/36 with the average just a tick higher at 3.38years/37.2. If that's the figure, I think the Nats are fooling themselves if they don't do that deal.

Will said...

This discussion is all hypothetical, because you're assuming 25 or so better teams aren't going to want to sign Pena or Lee and offer similar contract with a greater assurance of success.

Many Cubs fans complained about Lee's attitude this year. He looked bored and apathetic to his and the Cubs miserable season. I have no doubt that Lee will look to sign with a winner. He's put up with too many crappy Cubs seasons to want to sit through another crappy one with the Nats.

I also don't doubt that Pena will have other suitors as well, which will jack up the price for him, which will put us back into the same situation we're in with Dunn. Do we overpay Pena? Or look elsewhere and pick up the scraps like Overbay or Giambi.

Face it, this is the Nationals. We have to pay a premium to attract talent that other teams value. We did it with Marquis and Pudge, who've turned out to be rather useless so far. Adam Dunn has proven to be pretty good, so Rizzo needs to buck up and give Dunn what he wants. Otherwise, the allure of the Yankees is going to prove to be too strong.