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Adam Dunn at first base? Good luck with that, Washington

Dec 21, 2009, 10:00 AM EDT

Dunn.jpgSome fun Adam Dunn chatter in the past few days, with Nationals’ President Stan Kasten saying that if Dunner wants a contract extension in Washington, he’ll have to improve his defense at first base, where he’ll probably be assigned on a permanent basis going forward. Dunn, who is a pretty agreeable fellow, agreed, saying that he knows he needs to get better at first and will dedicate his spring training to doing so. Over the weekend, Nats’ manager Jim Riggleman gave what sounds like an overly-rosy assessment of where Dunn currently stands as a first baseman, basically saying that range is his only problem.

So, is there any hope at all for Adam Dunn, full-time first baseman?

Probably not.  Certainly not if you go by Fangraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating — commonly abbreviated to UZR — which quantifies the number of runs above or below average a fielder is after accounting for both range and sure handedness.  No defense stat is perfect, but UZR is generally considered by those who care about such things to be pretty darn good.

Over the course of his career, Dunn has played approximately a full season’s worth of games at first base.  Dunn’s UZR over that time?  -17.9 per 150 games.  To put that in perspective, the worst first baseman in UZR per 150 games last season was Billy Butler at -7.4.  Only twice in the eight years for which Fangraphs has UZR data has anyone recorded a UZR/150 as bad as Adam Dunn’s career mark: Mike Jacobs in 2008 and Adam LaRoche in 2005, and both of those were severe outliers when compared to the rest of those guys’ careers.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Adam Dunn will be the worst defensive first baseman in baseball in 2010. He may challenge for the title of all-time worst.  Perhaps he will do less damage there than he will in left field, but if the Nats have any plan for Dunn in 2010 that does not involve hoping he hits like crazy in April and May and trying to trade him to the AL in June, they’re nuts.

  1. Eat a Peach - Dec 21, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    Craig – your analysis of Dunn’s first base defense is probably too kind. Last year he got 66 starts at 1B and compiled an even more grizzly -25 UZR/150, and this is with repetitions and enough starts to smooth out some statistical anomalies and get some practice repetitions. This is probably closer to his true ceiling as a defender now, as his “better” defensive years at 1B came when he was a younger, nimbler kind of donkey.
    Mr. Dunn is a DH through and through, grievously miscast with a non-batting glove on. His first base defense has put him in the “Papi Zone” over there.

  2. Jonny5 - Dec 21, 2009 at 10:24 AM

    I love Dunn on firts base!!! He has given me many moments of laughter playing his “position” there. The only thing more entertaining is when he plays OF. I get fits of giggles watching him try to make a play with that large lumbering oaflike body of his. Very comical to say the least. If it weren’t so funny, I’d feel bad for the guy. Seriously the DH was invented for guys like this. I’m surprised he’s stayed in the NL this long actually.

  3. dcfan - Dec 21, 2009 at 12:01 PM

    Thats an interesting take on his possibilities as an every day first basemen. You must remember though of course that Dunn was put in that position without preperation. He went into ever spring training prepping as an outfielder. Now im not defending his mediocre ability at first basemen, mediocre at best to be honost, but i am saying that if he spends an entire spring training practicing it, he should in no way be the worst of all time. Maybe still in the league, but all time, thats saying a lot. Wont matter though, the Nationals overall defense has been lacking as bad as their pitching…

  4. Jeff - Dec 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM

    I just don’t understand how a guy like Dunn, who was recruited to play Division I college football, has become such a stiff at age 30. This guy was an athlete, hell he stole 19 bases at age 22 in the majors! But yeah, he’s certainly an abomination in the field.

  5. Wooden U. Lykteneau - Dec 21, 2009 at 1:36 PM

    How quickly we’ve forgotten Sam Horn.

  6. Paul - Dec 21, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    Career, Dunn is a -14.4 UZR/150 in the outfield (last year alone? -39.5!). Is three runs over the course of a season really that disastrous? Bottom line, Dunn is bad defensively. Factoring in his offense, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes out a net positive and compare rather well with his colleagues. Got those stats?

  7. ecp - Dec 21, 2009 at 3:06 PM

    Well, Dunn plays for the Nats, it IS the National League, and there is no DH (duh). Ergo, he must play defense. Lard butts who can’t move generally get put at first base. Seems automatic to me…

  8. Peter Earl - Dec 25, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    Have you turned 30 yet? Stuff starts to creak and groan even for athletes.

  9. Johnnie Newman - Jan 20, 2010 at 3:27 AM

    Good work mate! Cheers!

  10. silk screen printers - Feb 8, 2010 at 10:56 PM

    are you guys happy the Saints won the Super Bowl? I was kind of pissed at first, but I’m cool with it now. What do you guys think?

  11. Selina Mcmartin - Feb 10, 2010 at 6:34 AM

    I have to say this is the second time I have visited your site and I am diggin it! I added your site to my rss reader. Looking forward to see more posts!

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