The Commish Online                                                                                
Dunn at Leadoff - Over Before it Started?
April 7, 2003

It hasn't happened yet, but Reds' manager Bob Boone flirted with the idea of having power hitting and strikeout heavy Adam Dunn bat leadoff this year.  This decision was met with mixed reaction from the baseball experts.  Now Bunker & Dewey are weighing in on the possibility.

This week's topic:
Is Adam Dunn a good choice to bat leadoff for the Cincinnati Reds?

Bunker: I have seniority, so I'll start.  N.O.  Have you seen him?  Leadoff men need to be fast guys who can get on base whenever needed.

Dewey: You're right about the on base thing, but they don't need to be Vince Coleman anymore because the #2 hitter is more about power than moving a runner over these days.  With the average runs per game up over the last decade, the need to sacrifice an out just for one base has lessened.

B: Regardless, the fact is Adam Dunn struck out 170 times last year.  You can't have that from your leadoff hitter and expect to win ballgames.

D: That's where you're wrong, and here's why Dunn would make a good leadoff man.  It's clear that Dunn strikes out a lot, but it's also known that he walks a lot and his on base percentage last year was an even .400.  Assuming he still strikes out a lot but still gets on base frequently, when would you want those strikeouts to occur?  When no one is on base of course, such as leading off an inning.  With the pitcher hitting before him, leadoff is the position where his frequent strikeouts will do the least damage.  Remember, too, that he has some pop to go with the high on base percentage (56 extra bases) and if you check your stats, you'll notice that Dunn stole 19 bases last year - not bad in this day and age.

B: Yes, Dunn has some power, but that's exactly why he's better suited for the middle of the order.  You don't want to waste 26 homers on solo shots.

D: Bunker, do you remember a guy named Rickey Henderson?  The greatest leadoff hitter of all time?  He has 295 career home runs, many of them batting leadoff.  Should he have hit third in the order?

B: Dewey, Dewey, Dewey.  Don't you dare start comparing Rickey Henderson to Adam Dunn.  Henderson has a CAREER on base percentage of .402.  Dunn's only done that for one year.  Plus, Henderson did everything well offensively - he just happened to hit home runs along with stealing over 1,400 bases and walking over 2,000 times.  He did all of the things a good leadoff hitter should do AND hit home runs.

D: I'm not saying Dunn is even remotely close to Henderson, but I am saying that he also does everything a leadoff hitter should do as well as provide a little power.  As Rickey will tell you, there's nothing wrong with starting the game out 1 - 0 every once in a while.

B: True, but in Dunn's case, you're going to start the game with a strikeout about half the time.  That's not exactly the momentum you're looking for from your leadoff guy.

D: You are shortchanging his teammates.  If Barry Larkin, or whoever may follow, steps up to the plate knowing that the pitcher struck out the leadoff man, he's still going to approach his at bat the same way if Dunn hit a home run.  Now if Dunn is hitting third and the first two men get on and he strikes out, that might take a little wind out of his sails.

B: Now YOU are shortchanging the cleanup hitter.  Remember, in your scenario, they still have two chances to get the runs home.  That's why I think Dunn is best situated for the #3 spot.  He can knock them in if they're on, put it out of the park, or start his own rally if the bases are empty.  If he strikes out, he's got someone like Griffey to pick up the slack or lead off the next inning.  He's just more dangerous in the middle of the order because his weapons are more useful.

D: They're not more useful if he's striking out with men on base more often than if he were leading off, Bunk.  On a team with a less potent lineup, Dunn may be needed a little lower in the order, but with the hitters the Reds have, he can set the table like Alice from the Brady Bunch.

B: Well, if a guy is a good leadoff hitter, he should be able to be a leadoff hitter for any lineup.

D: Dunn can be a leadoff hitter for any lineup, and a good one at that.  It's just that he can ALSO be a solid hitter at several other spots in the order.  Just like Rickey Henderson.

B: Ugh.

The Commish's verdict:  Dewey
Personally, I think that Dunn would be a better fit in the fifth spot, following the big hitters, until he learns to compact his swing a little and cut down on the strikeouts.  While his on base percentage is impressive, the pitchers will begin to realize that they don't have to throw it out of the zone to get him out.  It's very uncommon for a player to have high strikeout and walk totals over the course of a career (unless the player is a power hitter who gets walked intentionally a lot), so I expect either the pitchers to adjust to Dunn or Dunn to adjust his approach at the plate.  Either way, Dewey is right about strikeouts being less damaging with no one on base, though, and Dunn has the other tools necessary to lead off, so Dewey gets the nod here.