When we look back at the stretch from 2000-2009 there really was only one season that stood a chance as the best offensive year and it was that magical 2001 season for Adam Dunn.
The Cincinnati Reds had drafted Adam Dunn in the 2nd round of the 1998 draft out of Caney High School in Texas. He and 1st rounder Austin Kearns were connected for a while as both would become top end prospects in all of baseball before long. Heading into the 2001 season, Dunn was rated as the #33 overall prospect in baseball by Baseball America. He was coming off of a strong season in Low-A Dayton. The Reds hadn’t had an Advanced-A affiliate for a few years prior, instead having two Low-A Midwest League affiliates, but in 2001 they got back into the California League with Mudville. Cincinnati skipped Dunn right by that level, jumping him straight to Double-A Chattanooga.
Adam Dunn was just 21-years-old when the season began with the Lookouts, but he took to the plate like a season veteran – of the Major Leagues – because he put up absurd numbers. He would only stick around the Southern League for 39 games because he had racked up 21 extra-base hits with 24 walks and 31 strikeouts while hitting an absurd .343/.449/.664 for Chattanooga. According to Baseball America, the plan was to keep Dunn in Double-A all season, but that quickly changed when he began channeling Barry Bonds.
With a promotion to Triple-A Louisville before the end of May, Adam Dunn didn’t slow down. In fact, he actually got a tiny bit better in the numbers department. The big left-handed slugger played in 55 games for the RiverBats that summer, slugging 33 extra-base hits, walking 38 times, striking out 51 times, and hitting .329/.441/.676.
In the International League All-Star game he hit a baseball completely out of Indianapolis’ Victory Field. The story, as relayed by Baseball America back in 2001 is that the home run was picked up by a motorist that was driving on the road behind the field. Thanks to google maps we can figure out that from home plate to the closest point you can be on the road is 480 feet. Dunn homered a second time in the game, too.
It wasn’t much later that he was in The Futures Game in Safeco Field out in Seattle when he did it again, absolutely crushing a homer off of the suite in the second deck.
Nine days after hitting that home run in The Futures Game, Adam Dunn was in the Major Leagues for good. He would debut on July 20th of 2001 and never look back. In 66 games with the Reds that season he hit .262/.371/.578 with 38 extra-base hits.
For his minor league season he played in 94 games, hitting .334/.444/.671 with 22 doubles, 32 home runs, and 11 stolen bases. His OPS was 1.116 on the year for Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville. In official games he hit 51 home runs between his time in the minors and majors in 2001. But if we count the two all-star games, he hit 54 of them in 162 games.
Stacking up with the contenders
As was noted early on, there was no real competition for season of the decade from 2000-2009 here. What Adam Dunn was just a different kind of thing. And that’s saying something given that Jay Bruce won minor league player of the year for what he did in 2007 from several different publications. But even that season pales in comparison to what Dunn did in 2001. That said, let’s take a look at how some of the other top seasons stack up.
When you head over the the OPS+ column you can see just how far ahead Adam Dunn was compared to everyone else. His 204 mark was 27 points ahead of the next best, which was Austin Kearns 2000 season. The only thing that worked against Dunn is that he simply didn’t play as many games as the other players did, but he was just so much better when he was playing that it still made it an easy choice.
Joey Votto showed up on the list twice, including having the 3rd and 6th best seasons by OPS+ in the 2000-2009 time frame with his 2004 and 2006 seasons. Jay Bruce’s 2007 season across three levels yielded a 165 OPS+, which was only the 5th best by OPS+ in this stretch. Of course it also came when he was a 20-year-old center fielder, which is why he got the nod as the minor league player of the year from multiple publications that season.
Here are the other winners for Season of the Decade:
|2010’s||Devin Mesoraco||Tony Cingrani||Donnie Joseph|
|2000’s||Adam Dunn||Travis Wood||Robert Manuel|
|1990’s||Jason LaRue||Curt Lyons||Victor Garcia|
|1980’s||Danny Tartabull||Mike Dowless||Clem Freeman|
|1970’s||Gary Redus||Keefe Cato|