By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) A rookie manager has a lot of tough decisions to make.
Many of those decisions will have to be made on the fly. Robin Ventura will have to get used to figuring out when to make changes in the lineup, when to bring in a new pitcher, when to send the runner and when to do nothing and leave well enough alone.
These are things that all managers have to do and it should not be overly difficult for an intelligent leader who had an excellent career on the field.
Ventura will have plenty of tests as manager, including setting the tone in the clubhouse so his players know that he’s boss without making the atmosphere restrictive. Perhaps he will be successful in this area and perhaps he won’t. But he’s coming into this situation knowing what he liked as a player and he should have a gameplan.
But managing the White Sox is not like managing every other team. Especially this season. Ventura has many issues and the biggest is Adam Dunn. Starting on Opening Day, the clock will be ticking for the Big Donkey.
Dunn had just about the worst season in baseball history last year. White Sox fans probably can recite Dunn’s numbers like a mantra at this point. His .159 batting average, 11 home runs and 177 strikeouts are the basics. But the other numbers — .292 on-base percentage, .277 slugging percentage and 115 total bases – just drive home how miserable the season was for him.
Despite those totals that go well past miserable, Dunn was in the lineup in 122 games and he had 414 at bats and 496 plate appearances. While they were paying him $12 million last year, that’s far too many at bats for a guy who can’t hit.
There’s no reason to go that far with Dunn this season, even if the White Sox will pay him $14 million in 2012. Ventura needs to have a plan in place and give Dunn a specific number of at bats to start to show some improvement.
This is not all on Ventura. Kenny Williams should be helping him figure out how long Dunn gets to show some reversal of form. This is not one of those decisions that have to be made at the moment that it is implemented. Hopefully, Ventura and Williams have a plan in place. For example, if Dunn’s bat continues to have all the effectiveness of a wet newspaper, he cannot get more than six weeks in the lineup. And that’s probably too much time. Four weeks would be more like it.
I’m not saying he has to look like Frank Thomas in his prime, but he has to be better than he was last year.
Dunn was the model of consistency prior to the 2011 season. He had hit 32 or more home runs in eight of his previous nine seasons, including five with 40 or more blasts. If he has sufficient bat speed, he should be able to hit the long ball once again.
That’s really the issue for Dunn. What happened last year may not have been a slump. He looked slow and unaware at the plate. He saw plenty of fastballs and he couldn’t hit them.
As sloppy and out of shape as Dunn looked last year, I don’t think it’s a matter of him not caring. A baseball player’s identity is all wrapped up in the numbers. Dunn knew exactly what teammates, opponents, coaches, managers, fans and broadcasters were thinking.
Instead of striding pridefully onto the field during batting practice and for each at bat, Dunn took his walk of shame. He does not want to endure that any more.
Perhaps consulting with new hitting coach Jeff Manto will help keep him focused. But in the end, it’s all about what Dunn does to prepare himself and improve his swing. If he does enough and his reactions are quick enough, he will put last year’s nightmare in the rear-view mirror.
If his reaction time is shot or he doesn’t do enough to prepare, his misery will continue and Ventura will have to take him out of the lineup.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.