So It’s Come To This

Jeff Sullivan · May 14, 2013 at 1:09 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I have a thing to share with you. I don’t really know how to set it up, and I don’t really know how long I want this post to be. I know that I want a decent introduction, so I don’t just immediately slap you in the face with numbers, but I don’t know what it should look like, and usually when I get into this sort of trap I just talk about writing until I feel comfortable enough to move on to the baseball substance. And, well, would you look at this!

A little over a week ago, Dustin Ackley drew a walk, against Brandon Morrow. Morrow walks a lot of guys, but he walks fewer guys than he used to, and every walk counts. A few days before that, Ackley drew a different walk, against one Z. Clark of the Baltimore Orioles. That could be Zach Clark, or Zack Clark, or Zachary Clark, or Zacharia Clark, but whatever it is, I can’t imagine there’s compelling reason for me to know or care. These are Ackley’s walks in May. There are two of them, after there were three walks in April.

This season, Dustin Ackley has drawn five walks. He’s batted 129 times, giving him a walk rate of 3.9%. Keep that figure in mind, as I show you two more. Miguel Olivo is pretty old, now, and he’s nearing the end of his major-league career. Over that career, he’s walked in 3.9% of his plate appearances. Carlos Peguero might go on to have a long career, or his career might never take off. But over his career to date, he’s walked in 4.6% of his plate appearances.

In fairness, Olivo and Peguero have drawn some intentional walks. Remove those and their rates come in under Ackley’s. But it’s not about Olivo and Peguero walking more or less than Ackley. It’s about the fact that a comparison can be made. Dustin Ackley’s walking about as often as two of the Mariners’ all-time most undisciplined hacks.

The reason Olivo and Peguero walked was because they’ve swung and missed a lot, leading to deeper counts. Ackley hasn’t walked because he makes a lot of contact, putting balls in play before counts can advance. That’s fine, walking isn’t mandatory if you want to be a successful hitter, but Ackley’s got 23 strikeouts and one home run. He owns a .549 OPS and a not-weird BABIP. The Dustin Ackley plan isn’t working, and while he put together a bit of a hitting streak after tweaking his stance, he’s got five hits this month with twice as many whiffs. If you’re going to pay attention to hot streaks, you need to be aware of when they’re over. Ackley’s seems to be over, and so he remains difficult to figure out.

Because, in case you’ve forgotten, Ackley was in Tacoma for half of 2011. He walked 55 times, to go with 38 strikeouts. The year before he had a similar ratio in Double-A. Dustin Ackley’s whole thing, the thing that made him such a safe and certain bet, was his control of the zone. Remember, it was his defense that was a question mark. Now Ackley’s a hell of a defender at second base. His strengths and weaknesses have swapped costumes. This is a year in which Dustin Ackley’s hitting like a good-hitting pitcher and Yuniesky Betancourt’s hitting like Robinson Cano with a cold. It makes some sense that Ackley would struggle, but it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that Ackley’s gotten worse. In three consecutive years, his OPS has started with a 7, then a 6, then a 5. This guy was the lock. This guy was one of the safest prospects in baseball.

This post doesn’t reveal a proposed solution, nor does it tell you anything you probably didn’t already know. It’s just meant to call your attention to something: Dustin Ackley can’t even walk, now. Not because he’s swinging too much, but because he isn’t swinging as wisely as he used to, and because he’s making too much contact. Contact isn’t necessarily a good thing in and of itself. Contact is only worth making if it’s quality contact, and Ackley’s putting 56% of balls in play on the ground. I forgot to say that that’s another change. That rate was 40% when he was a rookie. Ackley’s drawn fewer walks and hit more grounders, eating into his power. The result is a guy you want to pinch-hit for.

When people ask, I tell them I still have faith in Dustin Ackley — way more faith than I have in Jesus Montero. That’s the way I truly feel. What I can’t figure out is whether or not that feeling is warranted by who Ackley is now, or if I’m just resisting giving up what Ackley was supposed to be. Do I still believe in Ackley because he’s worth believing in, or is it because it used to be the idea of Ackley failing was unbelievable? Presumably, it’s a blend, because that’s how the brain works, and presumably, it’s going to be hard for Dustin Ackley to not be bad anymore, at some point.

The risky ones are more risky than they seem. The safest ones are never that safe. God bless you, Felix Hernandez. This seems like a pretty good way to wrap up. For every post, really.


45 Responses to “So It’s Come To This”

  1. SethGrandpa on May 14th, 2013 1:17 am

    So I know this may seem farfetched, but I swear I’ve never seen a player have as many close taken strike/ball calls go against him. I honestly don’t feel like his eye is that far off, he just seems to get wrung up on an inordinate number of borderline pitches. Is there any way to measure this?

  2. Gibbo on May 14th, 2013 1:43 am

    I have nothing to back this up, but does Wedge have something to answer to here? When Ackley came to the big club looking great, he slumps like all young guys eventually do and then we turn him into something he is not? I think a Wedge promotes guys to be too aggressive, just get on base. I do still believe in Ackley but someone needs to get in his ear and say just go back to what you did as a minor leaguer and rookie.

    Why is it that recenty the most successful guy with sustained big league success that came from our minor leagues is Michael Saunders and Seager. The concern here is Saunders improved by getting outside help. Smoak, Ackley, Montero came up and had all their goodness coached out of them. Then how many guys go to other teams but start performing?

    I know not all prospects make it but surely our hit rate should be higher than what it is?

  3. JG on May 14th, 2013 2:01 am

    I’ll be eager to see his walk-rate next year, when there is no Wedge to preach “aggression, aggression, aggression” to him.

  4. maqman on May 14th, 2013 2:24 am

    Franklin or Romero are just an hours drive away. He should get his act together in AAA, if he can.

  5. SonOfZavaras on May 14th, 2013 2:34 am

    So I know this may seem farfetched, but I swear I’ve never seen a player have as many close taken strike/ball calls go against him. I honestly don’t feel like his eye is that far off, he just seems to get wrung up on an inordinate number of borderline pitches. Is there any way to measure this?

    I think this is part of it.

    But I also think that Ackley’s going on more of HIS idea of what the strike zone is…and NOT the umpire’s that working on any given game behind home plate.

    Not all umpires are alike, obviously. Some have zones the size of a stamp, others will ring you up if that ball even sniffs white (no matter WHERE the ball is in relation to the batter’s body).

    After 1.5 years in the big leagues, you gotta have a rough idea of who calls what, how and when.

    Only my perception, and I haven’t done the FanGraphs yet to back it up…but I also wish he’d quit spotting the pitcher a strike.

    It’s OKAY to swing at the first pitch if it figures to be the most hittable pitch you get in the entire AB.

  6. PackBob on May 14th, 2013 3:41 am

    Good God! Quit fooling around Ackley! How in the world did we get to this point? (He asks in disbelief.)

  7. lemonverbena on May 14th, 2013 5:20 am

    1. Put on Mariners uniform.
    2. Turn to shit.

  8. rsrobinson on May 14th, 2013 6:03 am

    Whenever I feel like throwing in the towel on these young guys I remind myself how lost Michael Saunders looked at the plate just two years ago and how far he’s come since then. Still, its pretty damn discouraging to see Ackley, Montero, and Smoak regress over time rather than improve. Wedge’s alleged ability to nurture a young team looks like a load of BS from where I’m sitting.

  9. idfan on May 14th, 2013 6:12 am

    If Wedge is preaching aggression, then Ackley isn’t listening. Watch his at bats and see how often pitchers throw a fastball down the middle to get strike one. He fouls off a lot of pitches because he is always in pitchers counts. He seems to approach the plate looking for a walk, gets in a 0-2 or 1-2 count, and then strikes out, or weakly rolls over on an offspeed pitch, pulling it to 2nd base.
    Two years ago Saunders did the same thing, and it was his mental change to a more aggressive approach that made him a better hitter. Until Dustin decides to hit that first pitch fastball once in awhile, he will have the same struggles Michael had 2 years ago.

  10. Bryce on May 14th, 2013 6:20 am

    I like ripping Wedge as much as the next guy, but come on. Blaming him for this seems to be a stretch.

    Prospects flame out all the time. It happens. Ackley, right now, appears when I watch him to be more likely to be a bust than a star. Sometimes people regress and don’t pan out the way they are projected, and that’s baseball.

    Call up Franklin, put him at 2b, and send down Ackley to sort himself out. This is an example of why organizational depth is a good thing.

  11. Klatz on May 14th, 2013 7:04 am

    Ackley’s (as mentioned in a previous post) skills aren’t matching with the results.

    He’s a very selective hitter (25.2% o-swing versus 29% league average). When he does swing he has high contact (90.5% versus 87% average) and a swStr% of 4.9% versus a league average of 9.2%.

    But he’s got this sky-high GB% of 55.7% and low LD% of 17.5%.

    If you watch him he’s not balanced and often caught leaning to swing. Somehow his mechanics are screwed up; it seems like the adjustments have had the opposite effect.

  12. The_Waco_Kid on May 14th, 2013 7:55 am

    Total shot in the dark, but they should have his eyes checked if they haven’t already. Maybe he needs Casey Kotchman surgery.

  13. deflep78 on May 14th, 2013 7:56 am

    It’s a long road trip for the M’s, the Rainier’s head back home tonight. Do you make a move at SS after today’s game?

  14. EastsideSteve on May 14th, 2013 7:59 am

    Ackley and Smoak for that matter are both struggling with wood bats. Aluminum bats made them better than they have turned out to be in the majors. In my opinion, Ackley tries too hard to hit for power, I think he only weighs 165 pounds. He has good bat speed, but needs to settle for the homers when they come. Smoak on the other hand doesn’t possess the bat speed or power one would hope for at first base. Nor does he seem to consistently square up balls. I still have hope that Ackley will turn things around but he may have to visit AAA for a while.

  15. bigleaguechew on May 14th, 2013 8:22 am

    What is wrong with sending a guy like him down. best that can happen is he hits, gains confidence and figures out what got him here in the first place. If he can’t, then his future on the big league roster is limited anyhow. Also why are they so afraid to “rush” a guy like Franklin, but so willing to let Ackley sink at the major league level? Are we keeping him up just due to lack of better options, faith that he will just “turn it around”, or because he is a big face of the teams marketing campaign. I think the risk of his downward trend for a player keeping him up, is greater than the potential losses on the MLB schedule in his absence.

  16. goat on May 14th, 2013 8:33 am

    I seem to remember a post sometime last year about how he was getting so many called strikes because he had a better understanding of the strike zone than the umpires did. Maybe this is him trying to overcompensate for that.

  17. Westside guy on May 14th, 2013 8:36 am

    It seems like something *has* to be wrong with our major league staff (meaning the management team, not the pitching staff! Although…)

    Sure, prospects flame out. But both Montero and Ackley were can’t-miss guys. They had the right tools in the minors, yet somehow lost those tools once they got on our 25-man roster. If it were just struggling to adapt to the majors, I’d expect something more analogous to what Saunders showed pre-2012 – bad contact, lots of strikeouts… but he still walked, even when every other offensive ability was AWOL.

  18. diderot on May 14th, 2013 8:39 am

    “why are they so afraid to “rush” a guy like Franklin, but so willing to let Ackley sink at the major league level? ”

    Because they don’t want to turn Franklin into Ackley?

  19. Sports on a Shtick on May 14th, 2013 8:41 am

    At this rate Ackley is going to end up being a nice infield version of Jeremy Reed.

  20. TherzAlwaysHope on May 14th, 2013 8:46 am

    My recollection about Ackley was that indeed he was putting serious wood on the ball and taking walks. Wedge too exception. Ackley had to learn how to put up a major league at bat. Wedge was serious about how bad Ackley was. He had to learn from the veterans like Adam Kennedy, Brenden Ryan, and Miguel Olivo on how to put up a major league at bat. I say The Skipper ruined him.

    About the umps: they may not like how he grimaces after a call he disagrees with — which is a lot.

  21. Westside guy on May 14th, 2013 8:53 am

    I lay at least some of it on Wedge – and I think it’s a communications issue. I think when he talks about “being aggressive”, he means on balls in the zone – but he doesn’t seem to say that very often, he just loves to throw out an unqualified “be aggressive”. Maybe I’m wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time. I’m certainly not in the clubhouse…

    I mean, Wedge the player seemed to know how to take a walk. Although maybe he thinks that’s why he never really “made it” as a major-league player?

  22. thurston24 on May 14th, 2013 9:05 am

    Guys who have high contrat rates can create their own problems too. Not looking to drive pitches but instead strike out. I’m guessing he looked at the strike outs and is over compensating for them.

  23. CCW on May 14th, 2013 9:08 am

    On the bright side, the position where the M’s arguably have the most depth is 2B.

    Personally, I’ve given up on Ackley. Whatever he once was, he is not that anymore. I would bet against each of Ackley, Smoak and Montero. To be fair, I would have bet against Saunders a few years ago, too.

  24. msfanmike on May 14th, 2013 9:18 am

    If Seager had been the 1st round pick and if Ackley had been the 3rd round pick, there would be a lot less angst in regard to Ackley because:

    1. He was a 3rd round pick
    2. He would already be down in the Minor Leagues -honing his craft

    Ackley has definitely received the “star treatment” but at some point production has to override projection.

    Ackley is certainly capable (the tools are visible), but he is not yet very good at what he was supposed to be great at (pitch recognition, solid contact). At this point, he (and especially Montero) are not very good at making the bat squarely hit the hittable pitches while laying off the unhittable pitches.

  25. Westside guy on May 14th, 2013 9:23 am

    “To be fair, I would have bet against Saunders a few years ago, too.”

    And that would have been the intelligent bet. What Saunders managed to do doesn’t usually happen.

    Plus if Guti had not been made of glass, it’s quite possible Saunders would have never gotten a shot at all in 2012. Even as it was, he was on the outside looking in.

  26. shortbus on May 14th, 2013 9:41 am

    Ackley’s approach seems to have changed from: “Swing at GOOD pitches in the strike zone” to: “Swing at pitches in the strike zone.” Is that the result of Wedge’s moustache twitching whenever he takes a strike? Who knows.

    I have to believe he’s been frustrated by how many false strike calls he gets and that may also play into things. There also seems to be a mechanical issue with his swing. He’s a hot mess and should probably go down to Tacoma.

    I share the suspicion expressed by many that the M’s organization doesn’t know how to develop hitters. Whether it’s just the big club or organization-wide there seems to be a problem. I look at the way the Cardinals seem to fall ass-backwards into good hitters (they’re sitting on Adams and Taveres and that’s after bringing up Carpenter who’s everything we wanted Ackley to be) and it reinforces the notion that organizations can make a difference with young hitters.

  27. Paul B on May 14th, 2013 9:56 am

    Name one player who got better under the direction of Wedge and his staff.

    Saunders doesn’t count because he went outside the organization.

  28. deflep78 on May 14th, 2013 10:03 am

    Franklin not in the lineup today for Rainiers. Something brewing or just an off day?

  29. marc w on May 14th, 2013 10:06 am

    He still has a decent eye! He just can’t make solid contact, so there is zero reason for pitchers to walk him. If they groove a fastball to him, what’s going to happen? Is he going to single *really hard* up the middle?

    When he first came up to Tacoma, the hitting coaches there (maybe Alonzo Powell?) got really frustrated with his passivity. It seemed like they worked on that a bit in 2011, though you certainly can’t tell from the numbers. He swung *less* than he ever did in Tacoma in 2011, back when he was good.

    In any event, he swings at fewer strikes than all but four hitters in MLB, and yet it’s still not clear what he needs to do. I hesitate to say “swing more” because I fear that’d just lead to even more ground balls. “Be better?” Is that too vague?

  30. Westside guy on May 14th, 2013 10:21 am

    Hahaha, “be better”!

    Somehow I can actually picture Eric Wedge screaming that at him.

  31. Utis on May 14th, 2013 10:25 am

    Name one player who got better under the direction of Wedge and his staff

    How about Kyle Seager? If you are going to blame the coaches for Ackley, don’t you have to give them credit for Seager? Or maybe Seager would a monster without Wedge and Co?

  32. shortbus on May 14th, 2013 10:38 am

    Kyle Seager just stayed the same. He put up wRC+ of 143, 129, 160 in his longer minor league stints. His current 129 is in line with those numbers. So our staff doesn’t ruin everyone, I guess.

  33. bookbook on May 14th, 2013 10:45 am

    Yeah, yeah, I know it’s just mid-May. But, hey, by mid June, Ackley and Montero should probably be down in Tacoma, working on all that ails them.

    Rebuilds fail all the time. In fact, they fail more often than they thrive, whether it’s Shapiro in Cleveland or the Pirates or the great talent developers for the Royals or Fuson in Toronto, DePodesta, etc.

    At some point, you acknowledge the things that failed, and look for ways to build on the good bits.

  34. MrZDevotee on May 14th, 2013 10:51 am

    I don’t wanna make excuses for Ackley… But I do agree with SethGrandpa…

    Ackley has really had a bad time with the strike zone this year (re: the UMPS and how they call the strikezone)… I remember a strikeout the first week, where he didn’t swing the bat, and the pitcher never threw a strike, over six pitches. AND, also, he’s had a bunch of just crazy bad luck with regards to plays made on balls he’s hit hard, in good locations.

    (Is there a way to look up the UZR of defenders during just Ackley’s at-bats– I bet it’s crazy high!)

    In fact, twice I’ve mentioned it in game threads to apologize for him– and, no shit– it happened on those very at bats…

    Now, I don’t think just bad luck going away would raise him all the way to “not a concern”, but some very strange bad luck stuff has hovered around him like Pigpen this season. And without it, he’d be much closer to just average, instead of awful. The dust cloud needs to blow away.

    And glancing out at that short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium might be just the sight for his sore eyes?!

  35. Kazinski on May 14th, 2013 11:48 am

    I’ve got a proposed solution for Ackley: Swing more at strikes. He’s got one of the lowest Zswing rates in the Majors at 52%, and one of the highest Strike out looking rates at 39% (mlb avg is 24%).

    With his swinging strike rate of ~5%, he should be convert at least half his strikeouts into balls in play, by putting the ball in play earlier in the count, and not taking balls close to the plate with 2 strikes.

    That of course is not a total fix, but if you multiply his BABIP by 11 (half his strikeouts) then he’d have 3 more hits. Which might not sound like much, but it would raise his batting average by .025 to .256, and his OBP by the same to ~.290. Which is not great, but takes him from a disaster to merely bad.

    Then he can start working on other things, like not pounding the ball into the ground.

  36. msfanmike on May 14th, 2013 11:58 am

    I agree!

    Your analysis of his swing rate (game thread the other day) was spot on then, too.

    Now, how do they make it happen? The simple Ted Williams philosophy of “get a good pitch and hit it” has not yet resonated.

    Maybe he has a real small zone of the type of pitch that he believes he can handle … which would be all sorts of bad news.

  37. Woodcutta on May 14th, 2013 1:39 pm

    He needs to go outside the organization (ie. Wedge) to fix his issues. He has the talent to lead the league in hitting but listening to Wedge and his cronies isn’t helping. It is also quite possible this is all in his head and he’s trying to overcompensate for how terrible the umps have been the last two years. The only way he’s going to hit is if he takes less pitches and swings at the first “good” pitch he sees. Just swinging at more strikes won’t help b/c what a strike is one day may not be the next. Also, some umps call strikes that hitters can’t come close to barreling up let alone put in play for a hit. IMO, Ackely is case in point for taking the strike/ball calling duties away from the “human element”.

  38. Robo Ape on May 14th, 2013 1:51 pm

    Building off what Kazinski said, he seems to be taking too many strikes, which appears to be something pitchers have gotten wise to as, looking at his plate discipline stats, he’s seeing about 3% more strikes than the average hitter (zone% of 49% vs 46% league average).

    However, interestingly, he’s seeing about nine percent FEWER first pitch strikes than the rest of the league (51.2% vs 60.1%).

    These two facts in concert are very weird. They seem to imply that pitchers are trying to work around him early on, but have no fear of attacking the zone late in the count. Either that, or Ackley has some ability to induce pitchers not to throw strikes on the first pitch.

    His discipline, vis-a-vis O-swing is still great, it just seems as though, until pitchers fear giving him something to hit (or as long as they think he won’t swing at anything but perfect strikes), his walks will stay suppressed as no one has any problem attacking the zone.

  39. Mariner Melee on May 14th, 2013 2:44 pm

    How about Kyle Seager? If you are going to blame the coaches for Ackley, don’t you have to give them credit for Seager? Or maybe Seager would a monster without Wedge and Co?

    Actually, Seager made a tweak (on his own) to his swing in the offseason resulting in his increased power output. I don’t believe you can credit the current coaching staff for his complete makeover as a power hitter.

    However, I don’t believe the coaches at the major league level are solely to blame. It just appears as though no coach in this organization can prepare these players for the majors. Is there some method of teaching that is deeply embedded within the roots of the organization that causes these “touted prospects” to fail? I don’t think it can be completely dismissed; not with the track record we’ve had developing these players.

    It would appear as though players are indeed left to look outside the organization–to figure it out themselves– if they plan on succeeding at the major league level.

    All that being said, I do believe it is time to send Ackley down, he only stands to get worse at this level.

  40. GLS on May 14th, 2013 2:58 pm

    But he’s got this sky-high GB% of 55.7% and low LD% of 17.5%.

    We know he makes contact at a high rate, but these numbers suggest a problem making quality contact. The solution would seem to be a combination of improved swing mechanics and improved selectivity.

    It would be interesting to see video showing how his swing has evolved since he first got called up.

  41. msfanmike on May 14th, 2013 3:07 pm

    … and Ackley is sitting again against CC tonight. In his place – Andino!

    Also, DH’ing tonight will be one Raul Ibanez. Against a lefty. A great lefty. No fooling. Raul Ibanez DH’ing against a great lefty.

    Wow, just wow!!!

  42. Bodhizefa on May 14th, 2013 3:10 pm

    I’ve read multiple times how frequently the hit tool more so than any other scouted ability gets overrated in young players. Could that be the case here? Or do we definitely think that Wedge and his cronies ruined the guy?

    I’d love to see Ackley demoted at this point. He’s been as unbearably awful as Montero and Smoak, and I really can’t take it anymore. Give me Nick Franklin and Triunfel (who, despite Dave’s pleas against, is likely at least better than RyAndino). Then, when they’re ready, we can call up Miller and Romero and wipe this Ackley, Ryan, Andino stain off the face of the earth. If Ackley can figure things out in Tacoma, all the power to him. But he’s wasting everyone’s time right now.

  43. Mariner Melee on May 14th, 2013 3:15 pm

    … and Ackley is sitting again against CC tonight. In his place – Andino!

    Also, DH’ing tonight will be one Raul Ibanez. Against a lefty. A great lefty. No fooling. Raul Ibanez DH’ing against a great lefty.

    Wow, just wow!!!

    You seem surprised by this. Asking Wedge to look at the numbers is just as grievous as asking him not to go with his gut.

  44. wallmoon on May 14th, 2013 3:28 pm

    My thought is- isn’t this what hitting coaches are supposed to be for?
    sure pitchers figure out hitters eventually and hitters need to adjust. but good grief-
    Ackley gotten worse.
    Smoak hasn’t shown any improvement.
    Montero is worse than last year.
    it’s amazing that the Mariners are so close to 500, and even though we would celebrate that achievement, it’s where they were when the season started (0-0).

    SO- do we just have crappy hitting coaches?

  45. smb on May 14th, 2013 7:24 pm

    It’s just depressing, that’s all I know.

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