Back to the basics for Dunn
Reunited with Jacoby, slugger working to eliminate bad habits
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- With an imposing 6-foot-6 frame, 40 or more home runs in each of the past three seasons, plus an enormous strikeout rate, Adam Dunn is no doubt the quintessential slugger.
Dunn has certainly made a good living with that reputation. But now the Reds left fielder wants more.
This slugger aims to become a better hitter.
Doing that meant going back to the basics for Dunn, and going back to Brook Jacoby. The Reds hired Jacoby in the offseason to replace Chris Chambliss as hitting coach. Dunn and Jacoby have a history of working together in the Minors when Jacoby was a roving instructor.
"He knows me. I've known him a long time," said Dunn, who has 198 career homers since 2001. "He's seen me at my best. He knows what to do. He's the one that got me here."
Dunn batted .234 last season with 40 homers and 92 RBIs, while leading the Majors with 194 strikeouts. With a .365 on-base percentage, he still managed to be a selective hitter and led the National League with 112 walks.
What sent Dunn home for the winter to do some soul searching was his performance over the final two months. The 27-year-old batted .176 (33-for-188) from Aug. 1 through the end of the season.
Not long after he took the job in November, Jacoby visited Dunn at his Houston home. For a couple of days, the coach watched his left-handed swinging pupil take cuts in the batting cage.
"We talked about cause and effect with his swing," said Jacoby, who was a Major League third baseman from 1981-92, mostly with the Indians. "What causes the things that are happening?"
Apparently, there were a lot of factors. After joining the Reds, Jacoby watched video of Dunn's swing and noticed a difference from the early years. He saw mechanical issues. The front hip opened too much. Dunn couldn't get down on the ball quick enough.
"The biggest thing I noticed was he was late getting ready to hit," Jacoby said.
Eager to get a jump on the 2007 season, Dunn worked out all winter and shed some weight from his 275-pound body. He reported to camp ahead of schedule and is an early participant each morning with Jacoby in the cage.
Dunn has also listened to Jacoby and opened his mind to changing his approach.
"It's basic, I shouldn't say the word 'easy,'" Dunn said. "But it's back to square one stuff."
"He's solidifying the things we're trying to accomplish," Jacoby said. "A lot of it is different and is going to feel different. But the more we can work on it, the faster we'll get to where it feels natural and having him just react at the plate. He's asking good questions. He's telling me when he feels like he's late. All those things are pointing him in the right direction, that it's going well."
It's very early in Spring Training, but there have been some results. Dunn is 5-for-9 (.556). He did not make the trip for Wednesday's game against the Yankees.
"We have a long way to go," Dunn said. "It's just now starting to feel normal. Once we kind of get into it more, I'll see more results. I feel good now."
A few of the hits, including Dunn's one home run, have gone the opposite way to left field -- which is encouraging news from someone that has been almost strictly a pull hitter for years. Opposing defenses have long employed a right-side shift and have kept the left side of the field wide open, but Dunn rarely took advantage and hit the other way.
"I think the shift plays a big part mentally for him," Jacoby said. He's got to take that out of his mind and hit the ball where it's pitched. If they're going to pitch him away and he's going to try and pull it, of course he's going to hit into the shift. That's where backing it up, being square with his front side is going to allow him to work that ball away out the back door out to left-center field."
Will these improved results also translate to fewer strikeouts? Dunn has struck out 168 times or more in four of the past five seasons.
Jacoby hasn't solely focused on what Dunn does in the two-strike counts. He's trying to upgrade what's done during the sequence of an entire at-bat.
"We want to figure out how we're getting to two strikes all the time," Jacoby said. "Are we taking? Are we chasing? Are we not ready? What's the cause of that happening? It's not thinking in terms of the one pitch he swung and missed. What did he do on the other two? Did you take a good pitch down the middle? Were you guessing?"
Dunn has a laid-back, easy-going personality and often takes his setbacks in stride. Because of that, his high strikeout rate and lackluster defensive skills, he can be an easy target for critics. His renewed dedication this spring and Jacoby's coaching could take away some of the ammunition after the season starts.
Maybe not all the ammunition, though.
"If I took care of everything, I wouldn't be able to give you guys something to write about. I have to be bad somewhere," Dunn joked. "I'll have bad hair. Everyone can talk about my hair.
"I'm trying to eliminate the negative."