Early on this baseball season, I made a comparison between Adam Dunn and Austin Daye in passing. But it's one that I'd been thinking for quite a while earlier, going back to Daye's struggles early on last season.
It's not often that you see a guy who can usually do something in his sport have the bottom completely fall out from this skill. Dunn was one of the most consistent power hitters of his generation, 35+ home run seasons like clockwork. Then last year he 11. A slugging percentage of .277 compared to his career number of .521, an OPS+ of 54 compared to a career number of 133 (100 is average, 25 above or below is very good/very bad). His wins above replacement player was 11th worst in league history at -3 compared to his career average of 1.6 prior to that season.
While Daye didn't have the same long track record of consistency as Dunn, we knew he could shoot. He shot 47% eFG on his jumpers in his rookie year at 47% (just ahead of Granger) and 48% his second season at (just ahead of Manu). Last year? 30%. From mid-range or three, his shot completely abandoned him. How the hell does that happen to someone with such a naturally sweet looking shot? It sure showed up in his ws/48, went from .67 to .70 to -.05. And the only number that made a huge move was the shooting percentages. Fun fact: He had the third lowest win share of any Piston since he's been born.
Dunn, he bounced back this year and can hit home runs again. Not awesome, but he can at least do that one thing he was supposed to be able to do. With that, he's back to having some value again, with WAR that should end the season over 1.0 without a problem. Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto put it pretty well.
"Why [is he having a good year]? Number one, he's healthy. And despite the whole mechanical part of it, I think he just believes that he can hit again. He believes that he is a superstar and believes that he a good hitter. When you have confidence on top of ability, you're dangerous."
"When a guy is struggling, it's usually more mental than anything. I firmly believe - and I'm probably in the minority on this - that once you get to the big leagues, your mechanics are just about fine. I don't think you ever have the perfect mechanics on every swing, but if you have a good approach every night, you can succeed. Everybody at this level has the mechanics to play here."
Could Manto be hitting on something true for Daye as well? Considering how nice Daye's shot looked his first two years, I'm at least curious. He had some ankle problems early on, then looked completely lost/rattled/insertanysynonymforshitty here for the rest of the season. Missed shots piled up, leading to looks to the sideline, leading to Gordon Dribbles, leading to hanging his head on the defensive end. He never had a great basketball IQ, but he looked screwed up mentally.
But like Dunn, if he's able to get his jumper back, he'll at least have a modicum of value. His first two years, his WS/48 was 6th best on the team. His shooting was always a given, it was his decision making, frame, and on-the-ball defense that gave us pause. But even with those flaws, he was at least decent enough to be shoehorned into the starting lineup as a friggin power forward. He's almost certainly never going to fill that potential. But perhaps if he hits some early shots, gains some confidence, maybe there's a shot at an Adam Dunn-style in him.
On another note, I totally should have titled this "Is Daye really Dunn?" You see what I did there? Eh?