A's Acquire Adam Dunn for Nolan Sanburn

By Jason Wojciechowski on August 31, 2014 at 12:22 PM

If you'd have told me in April that the A's would be trading for Adam Dunn on August 31st, I'd have told you, "Well I guess you think the A's are going to be in the playoff hunt and the White Sox are going to be bad and also I guess either John Jaso is going to get a concussion again or Brandon Moss is going to break his face awkwardly fielding a ball at first base." And I'd have been right! The A's are in the playoff hunt and the White Sox are bad and John Jaso did get a concussion!

Honestly, I don't know how you put up with me being so damn smart.


  Adam Dunn TAv John Jaso TAv
2011 .216 .229
2012 .283 .339
2013 .281 .291
2014 .281 .285
PECOTA ROS .274 .283

So the A's are taking a hit by having lost Jaso to an injury from which we can only hope that there will be a recovery, especially when you add in whatever small value Jaso had on the roster by being able to don the Implements of Idiocy. (Assuming that actually has any positive value -- he's such a bad catcher that tempting Bob Melvin to play him there by labeling him a catcher might actually be a negative.)

Of course, Dunn vs. Jaso just illustrates how much we'd rather Jaso not be concussed. The question is Dunn vs. whoever he's going to replace in the lineup as the DH against right-side pitching. The answer to that in the absence of Coco Crisp is Craig Gentry, as Sam Fuld can man center field, freeing up left field for Brandon Moss, first base for Stephen Vogt, and DH for Dunn. So:

  Adam Dunn wOBA v. RHP Craig Gentry wOBA v. RHP
2011 .296 .297
2012 .354 .304
2013 .340 .320
2014 .354 .248
Weighted mean .344 .286

(I didn't take a rigorous mean. I did 40 percent 2014, 30 percent 2013, 20 percent 2012, 10 percent 2011. Just because I had to make up some numbers and I didn't want to bother too much with plate appearances.)

Using that stupid weighted mean, playing Dunn against every righty instead of Gentry for the remainder of the season should put the A's 6.5 runs to the good on offense.1 They do give some of that back on defense with Moss in left field instead of Fuld, but it's hard to know how much given that Moss has a grand total of 928 career innings in left and Fuld has 1122. You could do better by adding in their right field numbers and assuming that the positions are effectively equivalent except with respect to arm, but you're still looking at not much more than a single season's worth of data, and that spread out over many years, which adds confounding issues of changing skills. Even if the A's give back about three of those six runs (if you figure there's about a 20-run defensive gap between the two over the course of a season, the last month of the year would work out to something like 2.5 to 3.3 runs, depending on how many lefties the team faces), it's not easy to find a one-month three-run upgrade in an August 31st trade.

Then again, if Coco Crisp comes back in a week, then presumably Adam Dunn will not be hitting the bench. Instead, I'd imagine the A's will sit Sam Fuld, with Crisp in center and the remainder of the lineup unchanged. So what if instead of Gentry, we attribute half of Dunn's PAs as coming at the expense of Fuld?

  Adam Dunn wOBA v. RHP Sam Fuld wOBA v. RHP
2011 .296 .315
2012 .354 .296
2013 .340 .194
2014 .354 .313
Weighted mean .344 .274

Fuld's two worst seasons against righties were also those with the fewest plate appearances (surprise), so even if you figure we should change the weights a little and call him more of a .290 true wOBA talent against righties, that's not different from what we'd expect from Gentry. If you think .313 is his true talent, then you cut the 6.5-run margin in half over the course of the rest of the season, which means you lose one quarter of it assuming that Crisp plays half of the remaining 27 games against righties.

So what do you want to call it, a five-run upgrade on offense paired with a 2.5-run downgrade on defense? This isn't nothing. Dunn won't be the savior of the team, but 2.5 runs isn't nothing.

What did the A's give up for the privilege of employing Adam Dunn? Besides a little money, that is. (Dunn's owed something like $2.5 million over the rest of the season, and word is, per Rick Hahn, that the White Sox are sending seven figures of cash to the A's while saving seven figures off their payroll, so figure it's something like a 50-50 split and the A's are paying $1.25 million of John Fisher's money to watch Big Donkey hit his 465th career homer in green and gold.)

Before the 2013 season, Nolan Sanburn was rated by the Baseball Prospectus crew as the A's sixth-best prospect, between Grant Green and Renato Nunez. Sanburn was a second-round pick in 2012 out of college without much height, command, or secondaries, but with big-time strength and fastball velocity. By the time the pre-2014 rankings came out, Sanburn had suffered a shoulder injury and switched to the bullpen, but still had the velocity and was developing two breaking pitches.

This year, pitching in Stockton, Sanburn has whiffed a batter per inning while walking one every three. He's pitched exclusively out of the 'pen. There hasn't been a report written about him on BP this year, which is not unusual given that he's a 22-year-old reliever in High-A, even if he is one who may have a late-innings future role in the majors. He may just as easily be a fastball-only pitcher who gets a cup of coffee or three and that's it. He may flame out with another injury. He is, in short, little enough to give up for Dunn, even if, given the decimated state of the A's minor-league ranks, he might have been a top-seven prospect next year by default.

  1. To convert wOBA to runs above average, subtract the league average (.311 this year), multiply by a wOBA scale, and then multiply by plate appearances. I estimated PA by 27 games remaining times four PA per game times a rough guess that they'd face righties in 80 percent of those games.