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updated: 7/1/2012 2:51 PM

This is the Dunn we all expected

Cutting down strikeouts would be ideal, but slugger certainly worth price of admission

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  • White Sox slugger Adam Dunn has 24 home runs this season to go along with his 125 strikeouts, which is exactly what the Sox expected from him when they signed him two years ago, says baseball columnist Matt Spiegel.

      White Sox slugger Adam Dunn has 24 home runs this season to go along with his 125 strikeouts, which is exactly what the Sox expected from him when they signed him two years ago, says baseball columnist Matt Spiegel.
    Associated Press

 
 

The first-place White Sox have the top three candidates for comeback player of the year in the American League.

Alex Rios has been terrific, enjoying his best stretch since coming to town. Jake Peavy is physically intact, the biggest factor in allowing him to showcase his smart professionalism.

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But let's focus on the slugger.

So White Sox fans, what do you think of the real Adam Dunn?

Because this guy, this season, is him. Last year's anomaly is gone. Dunn doesn't want to talk about it anymore, and you can't blame him. He was in a deep, dark chasm of a slump, the likes of which his career had never seen.

This year is him.

Prodigious bombs directly follow an 0-for-24 slump. Headed into the weekend, Dunn was 153rd of the 160 qualifiers in batting average. He leads the majors in strikeouts, with 25 more than second place.

But, he's tied for second in home runs and fifth in RBI.

Every team in baseball would take him.

But as I'd suspected, living with him daily is vastly different than reading his numbers from afar. There will be a week of enormous frustration, forcing even his most ardent supporters to wonder whether he's backsliding towards last year's ugliness. That will be followed by the longest opposite-field blast you've ever seen in your life.

He is the active standard bearer for what baseball people call a "three true outcome" guy.

•Strikeouts are true outcome No. 1, and Dunn is on pace for more than 225 of them.

•Walks are true outcome No. 2, and he's on pace for more than 110.

•The most beloved true outcome is of course homers, and at this rate Dunn will amazingly deliver about 60 of those.

His consistency has made him the darling of the statistically inclined for years. I've always fought just a bit against that adoration.

Strikeouts are not always "just another out." Each one requires context, and context can be tiring. It's easy to simply make a black-and-white blanket statement that fans are stupid for being agitated about Ks.

It's harder to pore through a golden sombrero game, figuring out which Ks were damaging and which were not. Making contact is sometimes preferred, and necessary.

Plus, when possible I'd prefer a more complete ballplayer. Dunn brings almost nothing to the table when he's slumping. He's well aware of this, and says so himself.

On The Dan Patrick Show last week, Dunn said, "when I'm going bad, I'm the worst player in the league." He knows he has to hit homers to have any value.

But oh does he hit them.

Here's a hint as to the extremity of his particular skill: In his career, 28.4 percent of his hits have been homers. Among active players he tops that list, followed by Ryan Howard, Jim Thome, Carlos Pena, and Mark Reynolds. There are more complete players in the top 20, like Albert Pujols, Mark Texeira and Alex Rodriguez, but the top five all fit the Dunn-styled bill. Perhaps Pena is a minor outlier, only because he's a better defender than the rest.

Dunn is doing his thing in 2012 at an even more extreme rate. After Saturday's 4-0 loss in New York, it was 24 homers in his 58 hits. That's an outrageous 41 percent.

Dunn's season and career are both historic so far. His value is clear.

That doesn't mean it's pure joy to watch him work, and it doesn't mean every strikeout can simply be tossed aside as inconsequential.

But if it's the price to pay for a full season of this kind of slugging, you reach for the wallet quickly.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM, and The Score's "Hit and Run" at 9 a.m. Sundays with his Daily Herald colleague, Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670. Matt thinks a runner trying to score from first on a double into the gap is the most exciting play in baseball.

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