Chicago White Sox's Adam Dunn looks on during practice for a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif., Thursday, May 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Updated: May 17, 2013 12:41AM
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The last thing Adam Dunn wants is another Comeback Player of the Year award. One was enough.
A ‘comeback’ qualifier needs a very bad year — such as Dunn’s in 2011 when he batted .159 with 11 homers and 42 RBI in his first year with the White Sox — to preface a good one. Dunn has nine homers and 18 RBI, on pace for 38 homers and 77 RBI, but with more bombs than singles (eight) through Wednesday, his average (.156) is cause for concern, even for a 33-year-old slugger with 415 career homers.
“He has as much raw power as anybody in the game but he strikes out way too much,’’ a major-league scout said Thursday. “He may not cheat off everybody, but he cheats off the guys who throw hard.’’
“Cheating” is baseball speak for starting the swing early to compensate for diminishing bat speed. Dunn hit .300 against fastballs in 2008 but .183, .228 and .175 vs. heaters in three seasons with the Sox. His percentage of swings and misses on all pitches isn’t drastically different (29.4 percent in ’08, 31-32 percent in his Sox years), but he’s fouling off more pitches as a Sox.
“He has raw power but he has holes and I don’t think he can catch up to the good stuff,’’ the scout said.
That’s tough talk. It’s an assessment Dunn disputes.
“Yeah, I don’t know how you measure bat speed but I don’t feel like I have to cheat to get to pitches,’’ he said. “My problem isn’t getting jammed. Everything is on the barrel, it’s on top of it or underneath it. That’s not an issue.’’
Nor is the way Dunn handled adversity, this season or two years ago.
“I know he wants to hit for higher average,’’ Jake Peavy said. “But Dunner’s approach to work, his even keel and mental toughness are amazing. It’s not easy to get booed in your home ballpark. He endured that in 2011 and some again now. To hold it together, to not throw stones back at people when he was hitting homers and driving in runs in 2012 is remarkable. I went through some tough times … watching him I learned so much about being a man, being a standup.’’
Said Dunn: “I’m not going to lie. I wish I didn’t have to handle it. But there’s nothing else to do. You can pout and do all that but you’re letting 24 other guys down if you do.’’
Because his body “feels great” and his feel at the plate is normal, Dunn expects to be the same player he was as Comeback Player of the Year last season, when he batted .204 with 41 homers, 96 RBI and 87 runs scored. Or better.
What does matter to a large degree is that Dunn’s confidence is still intact.
“I still feel dangerous and that’s what I care about. I feel like that. Every at-bat means something cool could happen. As long as that’s still there, I’m good.’’
Broadcaster Ken Harrelson won the Comeback Player award with the Red Sox in 1968 after hitting 35 homers and driving in 109 runs. He used it as a springboard to have what he called an even better year in ’69, even though his numbers were slightly inferior because he went from playing in Fenway Park to spacious Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.
After 2011, Dunn told Harrelson that he would put his name on the same award.
The award “was a building block for me, and it gives you more confidence,’’ Harrelson said.
Contributing: Bill Chuck