In December, Adam Dunn signed a four-year, $56 million contract to bring his considerable slugging skills to the Chicago White Sox. Expectations were high for Dunn, who has hit one home run for every 14 at-bats during his 10-year major league career, one of the best ratios in baseball history.
This year, however, Dunn has frequently been called a “bust” or “flop,” entering this week with a batting average of .178 and just five homers. I find it helpful to tether such loaded and potentially misleading words to hard statistical evidence, ideally from the realm of betting odds. Part of the appeal of legal sports wagering is that it encourages people to put up their money or shut up, thereby squelching mindless arguments and often establishing a reliable baseline for expectations on the playing field.
After reviewing the betting lines attached to his projected performance in 2011, I think it is fair to conclude that, yes, Dunn does deserve the title of the major leagues’ biggest bust.
Before the season, oddsmakers at the Las Vegas Hilton set an over/under of 35.5 home runs for Dunn in 2011. He’s on a pace to finish with only 13—the biggest underachiever of all batters on the betting board. (Players who have spent significant time on the disabled list were not considered.)
Toronto’s José Bautista and the New York Yankees’ Mark Teixeira, by contrast, are smashing the expectations of oddsmakers and the betting marketplace. Bautista is on a pace to hit 55 home runs (over/under: 27.5) and Teixeira is on a pace to belt 51 (over/under: 33.5).
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Among starting pitchers, the two biggest flops are Chris Carpenter of St. Louis and Ubaldo Jiménez of Colorado. Both had an over/under of 14.5 victories in Las Vegas, and both are on a pace to record just three wins. Jered Weaver of the L.A. Angels is tops among pitchers in exceeding expectations, on a pace to win 19 games (over/under: 13.5).
We’re highlighting outliers, but it’s striking how close many players’ numbers are coming to the lines. The Hilton set an over/under of 59.5 on the total number of victories by Philadelphia starters Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. They are on a pace to win 60. That’s solid oddsmaking.