Rob Deer is often referenced by baseball fans when try to come up with a woeful average guy who still has some value due to impressive power. There’s good reason for this, considering his historic distinction of the record for lowest batting average for a batting title qualifier since 1920 (the live-ball era) with a .179 mark in 1991 with the Tigers.
Deer did hit 25 homers that season, but just 14 doubles and, thanks to the horrific average, just a .386 slugging percentage to go with a league-high 175 strikeouts. (Baseball Reference did a nice little piece with a chart that you can check out here.) But with the pace being set now, Deer might finally be off the hook as future fans might invoke the 2011 season of Chicago White Sox DH Adam Dunn.
As the chart shows, through Saturday’s game (yet another 0-for-4, this one with three strikeouts) Dunn was on pace to obliterate Deer’s standard for futility, hitting .159 in over 300 at-bats with a league-leading 118 strikeouts which puts him on pace for over 200 for the year. Perhaps even more telling: After seven straight seasons of at least 38 homers, Dunn is set to finish short of 20 at this rate.
The signs might have been there last year, when Dunn belted 38 homers and drove in 103 runs, actually finishing 21st in MVP voting and adding a career-high 36 doubles. He batted .260, actually one of the higher averages for a guy who’s a career .250 hitter coming into the year and hit a career-best .267 in 2009.
But he also set a new personal mark for strikeouts with 199 last year while walking just 77 times, his lowest total since 74 in his second full year in the bigs with Cincinnati in 2003, when he batted a career-worst .215. That was also the last year he didn’t reach 30 homers, but he “only” struck out 126 times. His batting average on balls in play was just .237 — the lowest mark until this season’s .235.
The difference this season is obviously the strikeouts, and the combination has produced these historically bad numbers. And the White Sox don’t exactly have a ton of other options either, meaning that Dunn will likely continue to get the at-bats necessary to stay on the list and surpass Deer’s abysmal campaign.
On that Baseball Reference chart (which goes back to 1893), practically every other player is from the dead-ball era with one notable exception — new Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla, who entered Sunday batting .186.
Uggla’s season is different for a few reasons, however. First, the power is on par or better than Deer’s was back in ’91, with 15 dingers through 93 games. Also, his walk-to-strikeout ratio (31-84) isn’t as atrocious or even out of line with his career numbers.
The biggest thing for Uggla is that he’s actually showing signs of pulling out of his season-long funk. He’s batting .316 over the last two weeks with four doubles, three homers and six RBIs, seven walks and just nine strikeouts. That gives him an on-base percentage of .436 in that time, and a slugging mark of .719.
By contrast, Dunn has been even worse recently. Over the last 28 days, Dunn is hitting .088 with 35 strikeouts in 68 at-bats and just one double and two homers. His average on balls in play in that span? Just .129.
The White Sox signed Dunn to a four-year, $56 million contract in the offseason to acquire a reliable power source to anchor their lineup who would still be just 34 at contract’s end. Instead, they might have paid all that money for the answer to a trivia question.