Dunn's Batted Balls

I'm making this post with a bit of trepidation since I pretty much know where the conversation will lead.  However, a couple times this off-season I have been asked if I was concerned about Dunn's drop in production in 2006.  I always responded that I'm not concerned because while his strikeouts were up, Dunn also hit more line drives last season than in any prior season.  It seemed odd to me that both his average and slugging percentage would drop when he had more line drives, which turn into hits at a much higher rate than any other batted ball type.  Back in November, I wondered if maybe Dunn was just highly unlucky on line drives compared to prior seasons and maybe that was why we didn't see the numbers we would expect.

Well, Retrosheet has released their 2006 event files which have the play-by-play record of every game in 2006 (it's like a second Christmas!).  I've taken a look at Dunn's 2006 season, broken down his average and slugging percentage by batted ball type, and compared it to his previous three seasons.  No calculation is needed for Pop Flies as they are always outs or errors.  Also, the count numbers on the 3-year average are a little deceptive since Dunn didn't play the last month and a half of 2003, but the average and slugging are still relevant, I think.


|        |      Fly Balls     |    Ground Balls   |     Line Drives    | PopFly |
|Year    | Count   Avg    Slg | Count   Avg   Slg | Count   Avg    Slg |  Count |
|2003    |    76  .316  1.118 |    84  .214  .214 |    51  .784  1.451 |     44 |
|2004    |   129  .395  1.287 |   122  .246  .262 |    88  .795  1.420 |     34 |
|2005    |   132  .371  1.136 |   137  .234  .277 |    67  .791  1.567 |     39 |
|3Yr Avg |   112  .368  1.190 |   114  .233  .257 |    69  .791  1.476 |     39 |
|2006    |   129  .372  1.248 |   109  .156  .165 |    89  .742  1.079 |     40 |


As you can see, Dunn had a slight drop-off in batting average on his line drives, a difference that would account for about 4 hits.  However, he had quite a significant drop in slugging percentage, something that I will break down here in a second.  The bigger surprise to me was the huge drop off in his average on ground balls.  Even though Dunn hit nearly 30 fewer grounders than the previous season, he still saw his batting average on those ground balls drop enough to cost him 8 hits.  If you take that 12 total hit difference between his previous average and his 2006 season, and add it to his 2006 season as all singles, Dunn's batting line goes from .234/.365/.490 to .255/.382/.512.  I think many people would be much more satisfied with that second line than the first, I'm sure.

I also broke each batted ball type down by the hit type that resulted from it to see if there was any evidence of a change in luck there.  In the data below, I calculated the percentage for each hit type for the previous 3 years (2003-2005) and then used that percentage to estimate how many of those hits Dunn "should" have had based on his 2006 batted ball types.  Here's another table:

 Fly Balls       1B     1B%   2B     2B%   3B    3B%   HR     HR%
Prev 3Yr        14    4.2%   26    7.7%    1   0.3%   83   24.6%
2006             5    3.9%    8    6.2%    0   0.0%   35   27.1%
Est2006          5    3.9%   10    7.8%    0   0.0%   32   24.6%
Grouand Balls   1B     1B%   2B     2B%   3B    3B%      
Prev 3Yr        73   21.3%    6    1.7%    1   0.3%      
2006            16   14.7%    1    0.9%    0   0.0%      
Est2006         23   21.1%    2    1.8%    0   0.0%      
Line Drives     1B     1B%   2B     2B%   3B   3B%    HR     HR%
Prev 3Yr        83   40.3%   49   23.8%    1   0.5%   30   14.6%
2006            46   51.7%   15   16.9%    0   0.0%    5    5.6%
Est2006         36   40.4%   21   23.6%    0   0.0%   13   14.6%


The first thing that popped out at me for these numbers is the fact that Dunn had a much higher percentage of singles on line drives in 2006 than in previous years as well as the fact that he had a much smaller percentage of doubles on line drives.  Could this be an indicator that teams are positioning themselves better for Dunn?  That might also explain the drop in average on ground balls as well.  Certainly it's possible that Dunn has lost a step running, but he was also 7 of 7 on stolen bases, so who knows.  Either way, if this is the beginning of a trend for Dunn, it could be bad sign.  Of course, there is still the possibility that this is a just a matter of luck and nothing more than Dunn being unable to "hit 'em where they ain't."

Just for fun, I decided to take a look at what Dunn's numbers would have been had he been able to match hit hit percentages from the previous three years.  Here's what it looks like:

 AB   1B  2B  3B  HR   BB  HBP SF  AVG  OBP  SLG
561  64  33   0  45  112    6  3 .253 .381 .553


That's a nice line, isn't it?  

Admittedly this is a lot of playing with numbers and my point isn't to portray Dunn's season as exceptional, as clearly it wasn't.  I'm not even sure that I've shown anything significant, but really, I just wanted to take a different kind of a look to see if there were any obvious concerns based strictly on how he has hit the ball.  Perhaps Dunn was being hurt by the shift that teams play against him extensively on the infield.  Or it could be that Dunn will come back next year and the balls hit will start to find more holes and drop into gaps more often.  It's hard to say mainly because luck still plays a pretty big role in the game when it comes to batted balls.  Personally, I'm still fairly confident that Dunn will come out next season and put up some strong numbers.

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