Adam Dunn drove a Paul Maholm fastball 20 rows deep into the Wrigley Field bleachers yesterday afternoon, helping the White Sox top to the Cubs, even their record and pull within 2.5 games of the Indians for first place in the AL Central. Dunn, who seemed done for following a 2011 season in which he hit just 11 home runs and had a ghastly 56 OPS+ (his career average entering the year was 133), has kept the Sox competitive by re-emerging as one of the game's great power threats.
Dunn's 14 homers trail just Josh Hamilton (18) among MLB hitters, and his career-best 165 OPS+ ranks in the top 15. The key to Dunn's turnaround? He's back to killing fastballs.
The 6-foot-6, 285 pound lefty batter mauled fastballs prior to signing with the Sox, slugging .655 against heaters from 2008 (the first year we have Pitch F/X data) to 2010. As Dunn's slugging percentage by pitch location shows, pitchers threw him a fastball over the plate at their own peril:
Dunn's fastball slugging percentage placed second to Albert Pujols (.725) in the majors from '08 to '10. But during his disastrous first year in the South Side, Dunn lost his power stroke against the pitch:
He slugged just .332 against fastballs in 2011, a far cry from his past mashing and way below the .430 big league average. To put Dunn's fastball woes in context, he got outslugged by water bugs like Ichiro, Juan Pierre and Elvis Andrus. When the entirety of your contribution comes with the lumber, that's a problem.
In 2012, however, Dunn is back to lashing fastballs:
In fact, Dunn has been the most prolific fastball slugger this side of a pair of Matts:
Highest slugging percentage vs. fastballs, 2012