The announcement today that the Nationals signed free agent Adam Dunn to a 2-year contract evoked a variety of responses. Here’s the two expressed most often:

– Great! Now the Nats have to power left-handed bat they sorely needed.

– Drat! The guy has a low batting average, can’t field, and he strikes out way too much.

With a nod to Bill James and his fellow sabrmetrics aficionados, I side with the first reaction.

Why?

First, let me tell you about the term “secondary average.” James coined the name in his 1986 Baseball Abstract. It’s a easy calculation. Take a player’s total bases on extra base hits plus walks plus stolen bases and divide the result by at-bats. So, in 2008, Dunn had 23 doubles, 0 triples and 40 home runs plus 122 walks plus 2 SB’s for a total of 330 ((23*2) + (40*4) + 122 + 2). He had 517 at-bats, so (331/517) = .516.

By the way, this was the BEST secondary average in baseball in 2008. Albert Pujols was 2nd with .508. And, Dunn’s 2008 mark is 63rd best of all time according to BaseballAlmanac.com.

James makes two statements about secondary average in his 1986 book:

“[It] is more important (a better indicator of hitting ability) than is batting average.”

“[It measures] three elements — power, strike zone judgment and speed.”

This is why the Nationals’ signing of Dunn is a good move. He will help the team to score more runs, because of his power and his ability to get on base. And more runs usually mean more wins.

True, he will cost the team runs in the field, but, since he plays a corner position, (LF or 1B), his defense will come into play much less than an up-the-middle position.  Yes, he will kill rallies with his strikeouts, but he will also win games by hitting homers and being on base when other guys in the line-up drive him in.

The Nationals had a weak offense, poor on-base percentage, and abysmal power last year. Dunn improves all these areas.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love the 1969 Washington Senators. Quick commercial – you can pre-order my book, “A Whole New Ballgame: The 1969 Washington Senators online now at:

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In Washington back in those days, the one player who thrilled fans was Frank Howard. However, before he met Ted Williams in 1969, Hondo had big power numbers, but poor on-base percentage. His best OBP was .358 in 1965. Williams re-made Howard as a hitter, emphasizing walks as well as power. His value to the team rose tremendously.

Now, we Nats fans have a near Howard clone in Dunn. He’s not quite the hitter Hondo was, but he hits tape measure shots for home runs. If he plays the way he has the past 5 seasons, us fans will get to see some fireworks at Nationals Park in 2009.  Maybe they’ll paint the seats red to mark the blasts!

So, take it from Bill James (and Thomas Boswell) the Nats made a great move today.