In the spring of 2009 Adam Dunn signed with the Washington Nationals after a disappointing free agency. The man who had hit 40 homers-or-more the past five straight years was looking to cash-in, in a big way.
Unfortunately for Dunn, it was not a good year to be on the market, and it seemed that no teams felt he was worth big contract money. Dunn decided to settle with the Nationals signing a modest two-year $20 million deal.
Many felt Dunn's value on the market was hurt by the fact that he had hit only .236 in 2008. All of Dunn's secondary statistics were outstanding though, in 2008 he got on base at .386 between Cincinnati and Arizona and slugged .513. Still, general managers couldn't seem to get past his sub .250 batting average, his extremely high strikeout totals, and his notoriously poor defense.
In 2009, however, Dunn was able to have his most balanced year at the plate, earning a career high in batting average (.267), and falling just two points shy of matching a career best in on base percentage (.398). So what did Dunn do to adjust in 2009?
According to FanGraphs Pitch Type Values, Dunn hit almost all pitches well in 2009, a first for his career. While his fastball rating of 23.3 Runs Above Average (RAA) was down from 34 the year before, he improved across the board against sliders (1.1 RAA), cutters (1.0 RAA), change up's (4.7 RAA), and splitters (3.6 RAA). While none of his Pitch Type Values were the highest in his career, it was the first time all of the above pitches were rated as a positive. This meant Dunn was a harder hitter to pitch to, and he was reading pitches better.
Despite his strikeout percentage exactly tying his career average at 32.4%, he posted a career best in contact percentage, making contact with 72.9 % of pitches he swung at. He also made huge leaps in contact percentage on pitches he swung at outside the strike zone, making contact on 53.7 % of would be balls. His previous career contact percentage when chasing pitches was only 42.1%.
Both Dunn's improvement in hitting all pitches, and his ability to raise his contact percentage likely means two things. First, he's made an adjustment that's allowing him to see the ball better. He is better able to read pitches and is getting fooled by far less of them. A great indicator of that is that he is hitting all pitches better, meaning he is able to better identify the pitch before he swings.
Second his high contact percentage on pitches outside the zone means he is likely fouling off more pitches. This gives him a greater opportunity to hit "hit pitch," by wasting the ones he doesn't want to hit, instead of just chasing them.
Either way, Dunn made huge strides at the plate in 2009, lets see what he does with the glove in 2010.