So It’s Come To This
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.