White Sox

Can the Sox contend, Part 2: Dunn's rebound

White Sox

In part one of this all-hope-is-not-lost series, we looked at how the Sox rotation will set up nicely if Jake Peavy can stay relatively healthy in 2012. Some may think keeping Peavy fresh is a daunting task, but perhaps not as much as the next key to a run at the division next year:

Get Adam Dunn back on track.

Dunn fell into the abyss last year after a decade of consistent tater-mashing, hitting fewer home runs (11) than in any season of his career -- including his 66-game rookie campaign. He was only a handful of at-bats away from posting the lowest single-season batting average in the history of Major League Baseball. And he was rated by FanGraphs as the worst player in the majors by a wide, wide margin.

So what reasons are there to think that Dunn can do much of anything in 2012?

The best statistical argument is that Dunn will experience a simple regression to the mean next season. That is to say, his 2011 season will continue to stand as an outlier. Even now, it's an outlier on Dunn's career trajectory, one that could still have Dunn angling for a Hall of Fame bid.

In plenty of cases, those outlier seasons remain just that -- outliers. Just ask Brady Anderson's 50 home runs in 1996 or Paul Konerko's .704 OPS in 2003. Sometimes, though, an seemingly innocuous outlier turns into a trend, either for good (Jose Bautista) or bad (Richie Sexson).

From a non-statistical standpoint, there are a few things working in Dunn's favor for next season. A new manager and hitting coach can't hurt. An entire offseason to clear his head should help as well. And now that he has a full year of DH'ing under his belt, perhaps Dunn will enter 2012 with a better plan of attack toward the mental aspect of not playing the field.

 

Consider how different the 2012 White Sox lineup could look like with a mildly successful (we're not talking about 40 home runs and a .380 OBP, think more like 25 home runs and a .340 OBP) Dunn hitting in the middle:

3. Paul Konerko 3. Paul Konerko
4. Adam Dunn 4. Dayan Viciedo
5. Dayan Viciedo 5. Alexei Ramirez? Alex Rios? A.J. Pierzynski?

Essentially, the team's No. 5 hitter -- one of the most important run-producing positions in the lineup -- goes from a hitter with enormous power potential to a handful of low-OBP guys with varying amounts of less-than-15-home-runs-per-season power. It's like replacing a potentially good No. 5 hitter with a bat more suited to hit seventh. That amounts to a huge difference when it comes to supporting a pitching staff.

2012 will be the most important season of Dunn's career. It's his chance to save his legacy and stay on Cooperstown's radar. It's also a chance for him to redeem himself with the White Sox -- because if performs well, maybe, just maybe, the Sox can make some noise in the AL Central.

If the White Sox success next season in pinned on Adam Dunn, that makes you _________. But before defaulting to responding with "horrified," at least consider the optimist's viewpoint.