Fred Dunlap was considered, according to David Nemec, the best defensive second baseman of his time. He has been described as a "slick fielding" defender who had "great range". Through 2006, Dunlap was fifth among second basemen in career putouts, fourth in assists, fifth in total chances, and seventh in double plays. He once turned five double plays in one game.
Al Spink wrote that "Dunlap was the right size for a second baseman, being just a little above the medium height, and he was built so close to the ground that it was an easy task for him to get down quick and handle the meanest hit grounder or the poorest throw." While he had small hands and played in an era before gloves, Dunlap "could handle any sort of throw or hit." He was also ambidextrous and "could run and catch a badly thrown ball with his left as with his right hand."
Spink also wrote that Dunlap's arm was even better than his hands. "His aim was as accurate as the best rifle shot. And as he was accurate, so was he speedy as lightning." Dunlap earned the nickname "Sure Shot Fred" for his accurate throws.
"Dunlap swung the ball," wrote Spink in The National Game, "rather than threw it. This single motion game him a marked advantage...And there was no limit to the length of his low throws. He would run far out on the field after a fly ball and...shoot it home to head off the runner for the plate and with such fearful speed and accuracy that the ball seemed to sing as it flew."