Dunn’s Dollar Differences

Adam Dunn is currently a free agent, not attached to any team. He is, of course, associated with the Nationals, as that was the last place he played. They also have nobody ready to man his position, first base, and are still interested. So interested, in fact, that they offered him a three year deal last week.

The thought is that he wants a 4 year deal, and will go looking for it. Let’s assume he doesn’t get it, then what? There is no way to know how much he was offered by that Nats, but we can probably assume it was more than $10M a year, maybe closer to $15M. The question then becomes, if he’s willing to take 3 years, what’s he worth? Last year he made $12M, the year before he made $8M. Assuming he’s gonna make closer to $15M a year, the Nats have to ask themselves if he’s worth it. It appears on first glance that he is.

Fangraphs has a nice little conversion trick that tells us what a player should command in the open market. It’s is based on WAR (wins above replacement), and Dunn makes a very good case with the value.

Here is what they’ve given as his value for the last 7 years:

Interestingly enough, he has had some pretty big swings. Two years ago he was “worth” a bit below his salary, last year, he was worth a bit more. The total value of $21.2M reflects the idea that, from the fangraphs perspective, the Nationals got a bit of a bargain by only paying him $20M over the last 2 seasons.

Now let’s expand this with some more information. In addition to the value, there are the components of the value. Of course, offense is a big part of it. I’m showing OPS because it is much easier to understand than some of the other factors, and it is a decent reflection of how much his bat helped. Defense is a big part of fangraphs’ WAR, which is why Ryan Zimmerman’s WAR is higher on fangraphs version of WAR than on others. For defense I’m showing UZR, which is the actual “final” defensive ingredient that goes into the WAR calculation

This shows something interesting. While his OPS has had its ups and downs, it is relatively consistent. His best OPS year, 2004, had his highest value. This was also his best fielding year. 2006 was a mediocre fielding year, but it was his worst OPS. Yet, it wasn’t his worst value. Instead, 2008 and 2009 were horrible fielding years, and his value was down to around $5M a year. Without quibbling over a 2 or 3 million dollars (and, of course, none of us would care about such a pittance), his OPS spread is small enough that the real difference in his value has been based on fielding.

This may be a very good sign, because his defensive value had gotten so bad that it seems to color all assessments of him. But, he was a pretty decent fielder this season, his first full time first baseman gig. His last few years of terrible fielding probably were in part caused by the fact that a guy who never was a great outfielder hit his late 20s and lost some speed. When he couldn’t fix his poor reads by catching up to balls, they became hits and he was noticeably worse.

But speed isn’t a factor at 1B, and while he’s far from a good fielder there, he isn’t that bad. Carlos Pena is considered a significantly better fielder than Dunn, and he was for many years. But last year Pena’s UZR was -3.7 and the year before it was -6.1. You can dismiss UZR as a farce, or you can take it as face value and believe that Dunn’s fielding was actually ok this past year.

The only thing that is left to do on the value is decide whether 2010 was a fluke, or if he is actually a not horrible defensive first baseman. Watching him this year, I know he had some pretty bad moments, and little range, but he was relatively dependable for the most part. I find it hard to believe he’ll be that much worse this season, and if that’s the case, he looks like he’s worth $15M a year, give or take.

I’m not sure if anyone is going to offer him a 4 year deal at $15M a year. I don’t even know if he’ll get a 3 year deal for that kind of money. His defensive reputation is so bad, that people might expect him to take a discount. But teams should realize that as long as he plays as spotty but not horrible as he was last season, he is well worth $15M a year. The Nats may be able to get by with offering him more money than anyone else per year, without having to consider a 4th year, and still get their money’s worth.

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