Free Agent Stock Watch: Adam Dunn

Adam Dunn will be a free agent after this season. So it’s a safe bet that Dunn is going to have a career year and will cash in this winter, right? Not so fast.

Dunn, who has hit exactly 40 home runs in each of the past three seasons, has only two so far. But that’s not what makes Dunn’s 2008 start so interesting.

This season, Dunn’s OBP is a robust .418, but his batting average is an anemic .191. How do we account for this dichotomy? Quite simply, Dunn has walked more than usual. So far, he’s walked 19 times in 47 at bats. He’s on pace to walk 211 times, assuming he gets as many at bats as last season (522).

Amazingly, that wouldn’t break the record for most walks in a season, which was set by Barry Bonds in 2004. But it would still be a remarkable feat, especially considering 120 of Bonds’ walks were intentional, and Dunn has yet to be intentionally walked this month.

Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This is a very small sample size we’re talking about. More than likely, Dunn’s walk rate will taper off.

But what if Dunn keeps walking at this rate? Here’s how The Hardball Times describes Bill James’ theory that an increased walk rate signals decreased hitting, via Fox Sports:

In his 1986 Baseball Abstract, Bill James postulated that when a player experienced a sudden spike in walk rate one year, it would often be followed by a substantial drop in batting average the following year. According to James, taking a base on balls is a "veteran player skill" because it involves an older ballplayer compensating for slower reflexes and bat speed. But, James reasoned, the increase in walks will result in a decrease in batting average because the pitchers will adjust and will begin to make the hitters hit good pitches.

Could Dunn be nearing the twilight of his career? He seems a little young to be winding down already. On the other hand, Andruw Jones‘ batting average fell off a cliff when he turned 29, and Dunn turns 29 in November. So never say never.

If Dunn keeps on walking, how will it affect his contract negotiations? Your guess is as good as mine. But count on Dunn making at least as much as Pat Burrell, who is also a below average outfielder with high OBP and 30 HR power. Tim recently speculated that Burrell should land a contract in the neighborhood of $60 million over four years. Both Burrell and Dunn could benefit from a move to the AL, where they could DH.

Coley Ward writes for You can reach him here.

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