THE ONE aspect of Dunn's reputation that might be wholly accurate is the perception that he is a graceless fielder. (Or, as a Cincinnati talk-show host once put it: He "looks like a monkey with a football in leftfield.") His .968 fielding percentage was the poorest among players who appeared in 75 or more games in leftfield, and he was little better in the 19 games he tried at first. It wasn't for lack of effort, according to Baker. "He worked hard," says the manager. "Is he ever going to win a Gold Glove? I doubt it. Sometimes you are what you are."
Mike Rizzo, the acting G.M. of the Nationals, says that he's thrilled with what Dunn is, in nearly every way. "He's not a perfect player," Rizzo says, referring specifically to Dunn's defensive ability, "but there are not many perfect players in the major leagues. Believe me, he's working very diligently on his footwork in the field." Dunn is also far from complete at the plate: A career .247 hitter, he averaged 169 strikeouts in his seven full seasons. But the Nats, who made Dunn one of their two primary free-agent targets (the other was first baseman Mark Teixeira, who signed with the Yankees) early in the off-season, focused on what he can do, rather than what he can't do.
What he can do is hit home runs, from the left side of the plate, with historic consistency (a 40-homer season in '09 would give Dunn six in a row; Babe Ruth is the only player to have done it in seven straight), and draw 100-plus bases on balls (he walked more than 100 times in six of his seven full seasons, and his OBP ranked in the NL's top 15 in four of the last five years), meaning that he excels at what statisticians long ago proved are the two most important contributors to a team's ability to score runs: hitting for power and getting on base. So Dunn had obvious appeal to a Washington team that scored the third-fewest runs (3.98 per game) in the majors last season.
Someday Dunn might no longer be denigrated for what he appears to be, but appreciated for what he is. His WBC performance might hasten that day's arrival.