Back in November, while in the midst of free agent negotiations with Victor Martinez, it was widely reported that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski was also in serious talks with Adam Dunn to fill the DH void. Dombrowski was covering his bases, trying to ensure they would land one of the two to bat behind Miguel Cabrera. It was Dombrowski’s preference to sign Martinez because he had value as a catcher as well, but if he couldn’t land VMart, he wanted Dunn.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Dombrowski got the man he originally targeted.
The move wasn’t met with universal approval by any means. There was a large contingent of fans who preferred Dunn to Martinez, citing his consistent power numbers. While neither player had been a full-time DH before, a look at the admittedly small sample sizes for both players suggested Dunn was more likely to excel in the role.
From 2001-2010, Dunn was in the lineup as a designated hitter for all of 18 games. As he had spent his whole career in the National League to that point, this isn’t surprising. In the 77 plate appearances Dunn had gotten as a DH, he produced very well, hitting .271/.442/.593/1.035 with five home runs four doubles and 10 RBI. Dunn’s triple slash line as a DH was considerably better than his overall career numbers.
Martinez had struggled in the DH role, however, despite getting much more time there. In his career prior to 2011, Martinez had played in 32 games ad the DH, getting 140 plate appearances. In that time he produced a line of just .230/.314/.410/.724. VMart obviously had struggled as a DH and his triple slash line in that role was drastically below his overall career line of .300/.369/.469/.838.
This season, however, has proven so far that Dombrowski picked the right guy (or was fortunate that his first choice agreed to sign, anyway). Dunn has struggled mightily all year either because of having to adjust to a new role as a DH or to the new league or both. Martinez, meanwhile, has excelled with the Tigers.
Dunn is currently leading the league with 100 strikeouts already in only 67 games played. His seven home runs easily have him on pace for a career-worse output and his batting average has sunk to .173, that’s sub-Ordonez territory, folks. Looking only at his numbers as a DH this year, Dunn has produced five of his home runs, but a line of only .189/.327/.335/.663. Martinez, on the other hand, has put up all six of his home runs as a DH and a line of .370/.422/.596/1.018 in the 39 games he’s played without a position.
It was widely assumed that the majority of Martinez’s value would have to come from the times he was able to catch, because he wasn’t expected to hit enough to justify the contract he got. Dunn was assumed to be better equipped to handle the DH role exclusively and was surely thought to hold a potent enough bat to better offset the cost. As it turns out, for whatever reason, Martinez has seen his struggles with the bat while playing at catcher much more so than as the DH and Dunn has just flat struggled no matter where the White Sox play him.
I guess Martinez can be a DH after all. It’s just not for everyone. Don’t worry, Sox fans, Dunn has three more years (and $44 million) left to figure it out.