The tides have drastically turned in Major League Baseball as it pertains to what is valued in hitters. Older fans of the Cincinnati Reds reminisce about the days of the Big Red Machine, watching the likes of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and many other franchise legends anchor arguably the greatest lineup of all time to back-to back World Series championships.
There are two statistics that stand out more than anything from those title-winning teams. No player struck out more than 108 times in either season, and each player in the starting lineup had a batting average of .257 or higher. The lone exception was Bench's 1976 campaign in which he hit at a .234 clip.
Fast forward 25 years later, and the 'Big Donkey' arrives onto the scene. The anticipation for Adam Dunn's debut was heightened with lofty expectations following his success in the minor leagues. In his first year as big leaguer (2001), albeit in just 286 plate appearances, Dunn put on a show. Dunn hit 19 home runs and slashed .262/.371/.578 with a ridiculous .316 ISO in his debut season.
Was former Reds OF Adam Dunn ahead of his time?
For his career, Dunn slugged his way to 462 career home runs, a career-OPS of .854, and a 124 OPS+ in 14 seasons in the major leagues. During his eight seasons in Cincinnati, Dunn sported a .247/.380/.520 slash line and powered the heart of the lineup year in and year out with 270 long balls, highlighted by four straight full seasons with the Reds in which he hit 40 or more. During his last year in Cincinnati in 2008, he hit 32 in 464 plate appearances before being traded to the Nationals.
So, why was Adam Dunn seemingly scrutinized as much as he was for being an above-average player? Some might say it was his lackluster defense which hurt his overall value. Others, especially those who watched the aforementioned lineups of the 1970s, would argue he struck out too much for their liking. A fair argument could be made here, as he led all of baseball in strikeouts in three consecutive seasons from 2004 to 2006.
Lastly, some would say that becuase the Reds didn't win all that much during his tenure in Cincinnati, he should take a large part of the blame for the team's shortcomings. Using this logic, is Mike Trout, who might be the greatest baseball talent we have ever seen, really all that special? Should we harp on Joey Votto's reputation because of the franchise's inability to consistently surround him with talent?
Baseball is unique in the sense that each spot on offense can only control so much of that team's offensive production. In basketball, teams can run their entire offense through one or two players. In football, the quarterback predominantly commands the offense. A batter can't appear in every other plate appearance.
Votto came just short of winning his second NL MVP in 2017. The Reds were 68-94 that year. Are we going to blame him for that? Not a chance.
While Adam Dunn had his flaws, he absolutely did more to help the Cincinnati Reds win than he did hold them back. The Big Donkey deserves more appreciation, and a lot less scrutiny.