This week for What’s Your Fantasy, I want to take a look at two very interesting players so far in 2010.  Both players are considered in or near the top tier of sluggers in our generation and both are having very curious seasons.  One of them is struggling like he’s never struggled before while the second went through his struggles last season and appears to have turned it around so far in 2011.  So much so that the contract he signed in the offseason, which was universally despised at the time, now seems like a gigantic bargain.

Let’s get right to it.

Adam Dunn
Adam’s epically poor start to the year has people asking, is he…what’s the word…finished?*  So far in 2011, Dunn is hitting just .194 with an anemic .347 slugging percentage and only four homeruns in 174 plate appearances.  His isolated power is sitting at just .153, behind such feared sluggers as Corey Patterson and Jeff Francoeur.

So what’s the deal?  Dunn has been one of the most consistent players in baseball over the last decade or so and now he seems to be declining rapidly.  If you have him on your fantasy team, is it time to bite the bullet and drop him, or should you wait it out?

As I said in the previous paragraph, Dunn has been remarkably consistent throughout his career.  His wOBA has never been lower than .353 and his wRC+ has never been below 110 (or 10% better than the league-average player offensively), yet this year his wOBA is just .304 and his wRC+ is just 87.  He’s striking out more than 40% of the time, which is high even for him, but something tells me that this prolonged slump won’t last.

Dunn is still walking more than 15% of the time which means he’s still being selective at the plate and waiting for his pitch and he has been hurt a little bit by a couple different luck dragons.  His BABIP has rebounded after a terrible start to .286, but that’s still slightly lower than his career average.  BABIP, however, only really helps your batting average and if you have Dunn on your team, you probably don’t much care about that; you care about his power.

Dunn’s HR/FB rate so far this year has been very low.  It currently sits at just 9.1% which is below the league average.  Being that Dunn is a slugger, his HR/FB rate generally sits much higher than the league average; his career-mark is nearly 22%.  All other things being equal, if Dunn’s HR/FB rate this season was at his career norm, he’d have 10 homeruns, not four.  Add in that he’s hitting in U.S. Cellular Field, a known homerun bandbox, and Dunn’s numbers should normalize going forward.  Keep him on your bench until those flyballs to the warning track start going over the fence again.

Lance Berkman
After last season when Berkman split time between the Astros and Yankees, most of us had written off the slugging first baseman.  Despite consistent numbers throughout his career, he fell off in 2010 with a disappointing.248/.368/.413 slash line and only 14 homeruns in 481 plate appearances.

Most people laughed when the Cardinals decided to sign Berkman to an $8-million contract to play right field for the 2011 season, but few are laughing now…at his offense at least.  Berkman is hitting .338/.451/.662 with 11 homeruns in only 162 plate appearances while accumulating 1.9 WAR (he had 2.1 WAR all of last season).

It appears we were a bit premature on predicting Berkman’s downfall.  He’s obviously not as good as he’s been so far; his 24.4% HR/FB rate is unsustainable, as is his .327 BABIP, but it’s important to remember that last year was likely the aberration for Berkman.  Despite his struggles, he still managed a 117 wRC+ despite in 2010 and was much better with the Astros than he was with the Yankees.  A return to the NL Central seems to have been exactly what he’s needed to get back on track.  If you were lucky enough to draft Berkman for cheap or pick him up off the waiver wire, don’t go into sell-high mode just yet.  Berkman isn’t quite finished and you might as well ride out the good times while they’re still here.

If his struggles continue, I may have to focus next week’s piece on another potentially declining slugger, Albert Pujols.

Until then, Happy Baseball!

*See what I did there?

Travis Reitsma is the fantasy baseball guru here at Getting Blanked, but he also writes more broadly about baseball over at Baseball Canadiana. You can also follow him on Twitter and ask him fantasy-related questions.  Who knows, maybe they’ll be answered here.

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