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Go Bold or Go Home: Draft Adam Dunn Over Paul Konerko

By every significant metric, Paul Konerko had a better 2012 season than Adam Dunn.  Though Dunn enjoyed a big comeback from his legendarily disastrous 2011 campaign, Konerko was clearly the superior overall hitter.  As such, I expected that Konerko would probably be a higher choice on most 2013 draft boards but all things considered, both players fall within my general grouping of "second-tier first basemen."  If you adopt the strategy of drafting the harder-to-fill infield positions first, then Dunn and Konerko are the type of guys you turn to by the 9th or 10th round to fill your 1B or utility spot.

I was surprised, then, to learn that early drafters didn't only have Konerko going earlier than Dunn, but going WAY earlier.  According to Mock Draft Central's latest average position ranking, Konerko is the 12th-ranked 1B-eligible player, with an average draft position of 80.48 (77th overall).  Dunn, if you can believe it, was the 21st-ranked 1B-eligible player, with an ADP of only 193.55 (188th overall).  Sixteen percent of drafters didn't take Dunn at all, if you can believe it.

Granted, ADP isn't foolproof this early in the fantasy drafting season.  For example, Corey Hart is three spots ahead of Dunn, but that will obviously change given that he'll be on the DL until May.  That said, I'm stunned that Dunn was given so little credit by Mock Draft Central's early birds.  The two players immediately following Dunn are the tantalizing-but-unproven Eric Hosmer and the human decline phase known as Ryan Howard.  At the risk of sounding like an old-school sportswriter that lives and dies by counting stats....you're taking these guys over a player who hit 41 home runs last year?

Not only do I think this gap between Konerko and Dunn should be much smaller, I think it shouldn't exist at all.  If you have to draft just one White Sox first base-eligible player this spring, make it the Big Donkey.  Here are a few reasons why...

* More 5x5 Value.  I noted earlier that Konerko beat Dunn in "every significant metric" in 2012, yet that wasn't exactly true.  While Konerko provided more offensive value in real life, Dunn outpaced Konerko in the stats you actually use in your fantasy league.  Konerko's .298 average swamped Dunn's .204 mark, but Dunn hit more homers (41 to 25), drove in more runs (96 to 75), scored more runs (87 to 66) and even stole more bases, albeit by a negligible 2-0 margin.  Since many leagues use walks as a sixth category, that's another big win for Dunn, as he received 105 free passes to Konerko's 56.

It's easy to be critical of Dunn's traditionally low batting averages but beating Konerko is four out of five categories (or five out of six) is hard to ignore.  Dunn had a .246 BABIP in 2012 and a .240 BABIP in 2011, so perhaps he's also due for a bit of a turn-around in actual average.  If he can hit close to the .250 career average that he owned between 2001-2010, then Dunn's value will rise even more.

This is twice now that I've cited counting stats in my pro-Dunn argument.  Geez, I feel like the Fire Joe Morgan guys should tear this column apart.

* Consistency.  You might think this sounds odd given that Dunn is just a year removed from one of the most famous sudden declines in baseball history, while Konerko has been the model of consistency even in his mid-30's, averaging a .304/.384/.530 line over his last three seasons, a.k.a. his age 34-36 seasons.  Let's not forget, however, that Dunn's collapse in 2011 was so shocking simply because Dunn had been so money-in-the-bank for the previous 10 years.  The fact that Dunn rebounded in 2012 makes his 2011 performance all the more bizarre since now it might have been just a blip on the screen, rather than the first sign of a decline.  It's like Wile E. Coyote fell off the cliff, hit the canyon floor and then just bounced up back to the road and chased the Roadrunner again like nothing had happened.  While it's fair to say that Dunn isn't quite all the way back (his .800 OPS in 2012 is the second-lowest of his MLB career), I'm willing to write off his 2011 as just an aberration. 

So if Dunn is consistent again, does that necessarily make him more consistent than the reliable Konerko?  Maybe.  It's interesting to note that both players' 2012 seasons were largely built from their performances in April and May.  Konerko held a 1.097 OPS through his first 51 games and a .258/.329/.409 line in his remaining 96 games, while Dunn had a .950 OPS throgh his first 52 games and then hit .190/.307/.416 over his last 99 games.  That's a big drop for both guys, but Dunn's decline be partially explained by his low BABIP, while Konerko's BABIP was a healthy .312.

* Age.  Using BABIP numbers to excuse one second half slide and raise eyebrows at another might not be much, but when you're dealing with a first baseman who's going into his age-37 season, any sign of decline is a red flag.  Konerko himself recently admitted that his 2012 season "was kind of one of those years where it was smoke and mirrors for most of it," which could be modesty or competitiveness talking, but it could also be an athlete being frank about coming close to the end of his career.  Dunn is no spring chicken himself, but ironically, his bounce-back in his age-32 season somewhat mirrors how Konerko rebounded at age 33, hitting well in 2009 after a disappointing 2008 campaign.  You're rolling the dice on any first baseman (and really, any player) once they pass 32, so you might as well go with the younger option.

Konerko might've had the better season, but his slight dip in form was a warning while Dunn's return to form was a relief.  I think we can count on at least a couple more three-true-outcomes seasons from Dunn while Konerko's 2012 was just troubling enough that a sudden decline wouldn't be a surprise.  If you do find yourself looking for a safe 1B pick in the 9th or 10th round of your draft, I would pick Dunn, since I think you'll know what you're getting.  With Konerko, I'm just not sure. 

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