Nationals beef up lineup with consistent Dunn
Sometimes when fantasy owners or analysts try to make a point about a player, they incorrectly use the word "always." You know, such as when someone says Josh Hamilton always gets hurt, Matt Holliday always steals a lot of bases, Tim Lincecum always strikes out more hitters than Johan Santana. The word "always" is a dangerous one to use. It almost always is wrong.
Now the property of the Washington Nationals after agreeing to a two-year, $20 million deal, Dunn stayed on the market a really long time for someone as consistent as he has been. Think about it: With Manny Ramirez, you know he's a terrific hitter, but do you know exactly what you're getting? Sometimes that guy turns up the offense a notch or two, doesn't he? With Dunn, it's pretty obvious what he's going to do. He's going to hit for power, take walks, strike out with the best in the business and make his batting average a liability. But he'll be worth it.
In Washington, I'd expect Dunn to play first base, since the main option currently is the always-injured -- OK, it's just a small stretch to describe him that way -- Nick Johnson. And the outfield looks awfully crowded: The emerging Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes will get guaranteed at-bats, and Josh Willingham was acquired in the offseason to play left field. You don't want to be Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena or Willie Harris and expect to play a lot. Dunn will fit in just fine at first base. He won't win a Gold Glove, I think it's safe to say, but I don't think he'll hurt the Nationals as bad as he hurt the Reds in left field. The Phillies won a World Series with Ryan Howard leading the league in errors. Dunn should be passable at a spot where he has played roughly 10 percent of his career. He's here for his offense.
Of course, it's not only power with Dunn. He's also one of the more patient hitters in baseball, leading the NL in walks in 2008, and finishing in the top six in the circuit in six of his seven full-time seasons. Dunn is durable, missing a total of 19 games the past five seasons, and he managed to produce an average of exactly 100 RBIs in the past five years despite often questionable choices for the top of the Reds' lineup. Really, protecting the likes of Cristian Guzman and Milledge in the batting order is not any worse than what Dunn dealt with in Cincy.
There's some bad with the good, of course. While Dunn hits 40 home runs every year -- or always, if you prefer -- his batting average is always low. His career mark is .247. Twice in the past five seasons it's been in the mid-.260s, and twice it's been in the mid-.230s. I cannot speculate what it would be in 2009 other than to say that somewhere in the .230-to-.260 range seems about right. Just be aware that Dunn's low batting average doesn't hurt as much as most .250 hitters because he takes so many walks, but that fact is mitigated a bit by his durability.
The home ballpark change to Nationals Park would hurt most hitters when compared to Cincy and Arizona, but Dunn's home runs seldom scrape over the fence. He has legit power. He was fifth in the NL in 2008 in longest average home run, after Justin Upton, Matt Holliday, Russell Branyan and Hanley Ramirez, according to "The Bill James Handbook." I can't say I expect more than 40 homers, but he's not a candidate to take a major hit in power, either. Let's set his over/under at 40 homers, shall we? Pretty safe, no?
Basically, the Nationals picked up one of the most consistent, safest hitters in baseball, waiting until the week of spring training to make the deal, and their offense will be the better for it. Ryan Zimmerman can certainly use a patient power hitter protecting him in the lineup, assuming he hits third and Dunn bats cleanup. Don't overrate lineup protection, but the Nationals got a league-worst 16 home runs from their cleanup hitters, and only 14 from their first baseman. Those numbers will change now. Good for the Nationals!
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.