The White Sox would be best served in 2013 if—instead of Dunn hitting third—manager Robin Ventura dropped him down to fifth in the lineup.
Alex Rios would hit in the No. 3 spot, and it makes sense on every level.
For starters, Dunn is a liability batting third.
Yes, Dunn finished with 41 home runs and 96 RBI, but he only hit .204 last season. Worse yet, he hit .212 when runners were in scoring position and a paltry .160 with two outs.
That is not the level of production the White Sox can afford to have from their No. 3 hitter if they hope to win the AL Central in 2013.
In 338 career games batting third, Dunn has a .209 average and a .780 OPS. When he hits fifth, however, his average goes up to .239 and his OPS jumps to .900.
In addition, Dunn produces more runs batting fifth. He has scored 69 more runs, collected 81 more RBI and has belted 31 more homers when he is the No. 5 hitter in the order.
Dunn’s stat line is markedly better across the board batting fifth than it is hitting third.
Conversely, Rios has found much success—and spent the bulk of his career—hitting toward the top of the order. He is a lifetime .280 hitter with 106 doubles and has 71 stolen bases batting third.
Furthermore, if Rios’s numbers are broken down, a 20-home run/30-stolen base season is not an unrealistic expectation. He can be that productive for the White Sox.
Another reason moving Dunn down to fifth in the order and Rios up to third is that the right fielder is a much better clutch hitter.
Last season, for example, Rios hit .348 with RISP and led the White Sox with 66 RBI in those situations. And over the course of his career, Rios has a .282 average with RISP, while Dunn is only a .223 hitter.
In all fairness, Dunn did carry the White Sox for a prolonged stretch at the beginning of the 2012 season. He also had some incredibly clutch home runs.
The game-tying opposite-field shot against the Toronto Blue Jays in the top of the ninth inning is one example that comes to mind. Home runs like these were not enough to make up for the number of runners he left on base, however.
Moving Dunn down in the lineup is the right call.
Now, even though it makes statistical sense to move Dunn down in the order, it will not happen unless Ventura commits to it now.
Even when the White Sox were in the midst of their season-ending swoon last year, Ventura was hesitant to alter the lineup. He told the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales that the lineup had been working all season and saw no need to change it.
Ventura was right—it had been working—but only to a degree. The lineup could have been more productive and he has better options going into 2013.
Should the second-year manager get caught in the same position during the upcoming season, it will already be too late.
If the White Sox offense is going to be about getting on base, moving runners along and then driving them in, Dunn is in the wrong spot.
Moving him down to fifth in the order during spring training may just save the 2013 season.
*Statistics courtesy of both BaseballReference.com and ESPN.com.