REED WATCH

Jeff Sullivan · May 27, 2013 at 9:08 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The worst thing I ever did to myself was compare Dustin Ackley to Jeremy Reed. I don’t remember when I did it first, and at the time it was an accident, but since then I haven’t felt very good. About Ackley, I mean; I’m otherwise healthy. I can’t shake the Reed comp no matter what I do, and it’s not like Ackley has been doing much to separate himself. Of course, if you get into enough detail dissimilarities emerge, which is how all comparisons are, but now my burden is making you feel the way that I feel. If I have to live my existence thinking about Ackley and Reed at the same time, well, dammit, bummer for you. Now this is happening.

Ackley is 25. He just got optioned to Tacoma, and Nick Franklin was brought back. Reed turned 25 in June 2006. A couple weeks later, he got injured in one of the more frustrating Mariners games in somewhat recent history. He missed the rest of the year, and he opened 2007 in Triple-A. Those 2007 Mariners, you’ll remember, tried Ichiro in center field. They also played Raul Ibanez 131 times in left field. That was a problem, then, in 2007. That was a long time ago! But we’re getting off track. A simple comparison between Ackley and Reed through their age-25 seasons, acknowledging that Ackley might still come back up later on:

Ackley: 1215 plate appearances
Reed: 839

Ackley: 1.9 WAR/600 PA
Reed: 2.0

Ackley: 84 wRC+
Reed: 84

Ackley: .285 BABIP
Reed: .286

Ackley: .107 isolated slugging
Reed: .113

Ackley: 86% contact
Reed: 86%

There are differences in their walk and strikeout rates, but that’s because Reed swung more often. Again, the closer you get, the more differences you can see. Look at two trees from a hundred yards away. If they’re similar trees, they’ll look like it. Look at the same two trees from one yard away. There are different patterns in the bark! This one has a squirrel. That one has two squirrels and a bird. They are still very similar trees, and one shouldn’t overstate the differences between them. Granted, different trees are more closely related than different people, in that you can predict what one tree will do based on another, but with Dustin Ackley and Jeremy Reed, it’s getting spooky. Statistically, they’re brothers, or at least really tight cousins that hang out all the time.

The Mariners have expressed confidence in Ackley, even after demoting him. Jack Zduriencik has attempted to reassure everyone that this is pretty normal for a young player. It’s hard to track down quotes from after Reed’s injury and demotion, but there were assurances that he was still in the team’s plans. Unfortunately for Reed, there were these other guys named Adam Jones and Wladimir Balentien. Ackley’s version would be Franklin. Franklin’s a second baseman, and suddenly he has the leg up.

I think there’s still a lot of faith in Ackley, even among fans. I’ll grant that I don’t know what fans think, outside of the Internet. But a popular sentiment seems to be that he’s just taking longer than expected, and he’ll be able to find his way. His track record is too good, his history is too promising. For sure, Ackley’s track record matters, and so it matters that he was once a can’t-miss prospect. But it also matters that he’s got well more than a thousand underwhelming big-league plate appearances, and to fall back on the track-record idea is to under-weight what Ackley has actually done at the highest level. It’s to make the same mistake we made before: to think of Ackley like he couldn’t fail. He could. He has! so far, to an extent.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Jeremy Reed wasn’t supposed to happen that way. Once it became clear that Reed was a bust, it started to make sense. That’s the way it would be for Ackley, if things don’t improve. I certainly hope that they do, and I like him more than I like Jesus Montero, but a few short months ago Ackley was the second baseman and I thought of Nick Franklin as a goner in some future trade. Now it’s Franklin who’s in the majors, and if he does well, it’ll be hard for Ackley to fit. Understand that this is what the development process can look like. Understand also that this is what busting can look like.

Comments

46 Responses to “REED WATCH”

  1. djw on May 27th, 2013 9:13 pm

    Ugh.

  2. shortbus on May 27th, 2013 9:24 pm

    Ackley’s story is the single most depressing prospect path in my life as a fan. At least since Brian Bosworth. I think Bosworth made me check my enthusiasm for new players just a bit. But with Ackley, like Brian Bosworth, I bought the hype hook, line, and sinker. Because there was more to Ackley than just hype. The scouting, the minor league stats, they all pointed to one incontrovertible conclusion: this kid could hit. Not for a lot of power, but average and walks should be a given. Great speed and baseball smarts on the basepaths(which are as advertised…his baserunning is top notch). He was a lock to be a major league regular and might make an All Star team or two.

    So I hope he “figures it out” in AAA. His swing just looks off to me. Maybe there’s a hitch someone down there can fix. Or maybe he hires an outside consultant to find the flaw. It’s too soon to give up on him, but his return to the majors is now dependent upon Franklin or Miller also failing. On nobody pushing Seager off third base to second. It’s in doubt and that seemed impossible to me in 2011.

  3. MrZDevotee on May 27th, 2013 9:28 pm

    Ouch. (Could have been worse though, could have been a tree that looked like Willie F’ing Bloomquist!)

  4. G-Man on May 27th, 2013 9:29 pm

    They’ll eventually dump him for dreck and he’ll figure it out elsewhere.

    Maybe they can get more for him if they throw in his bobbleheads.

  5. Westside guy on May 27th, 2013 9:30 pm

    Jeff, you can be one cruel bastard.

  6. MrZDevotee on May 27th, 2013 9:31 pm

    Shortbus-
    As a Husky fan I’d compare Ackley to Steve Emtman… Dominant at lower levels, right attitude, good work ethic, likeable guy, tons of talent, and nothing went right at the highest level.

    It seemed he DESERVED to be successful, just by who he was and how he played. And it never panned out.

    Seemed like a “can’t fail” certainty. And then, oops.

  7. scraps on May 27th, 2013 9:36 pm

    Or a Cougar fan, watching Ryan Leaf’s fall.

  8. scraps on May 27th, 2013 9:39 pm

    Or Jack Thompson, for that matter.

  9. scraps on May 27th, 2013 9:42 pm

    Or Drew Bledsoe…

  10. scraps on May 27th, 2013 9:44 pm

    Well, at least Mark Rypien had a decent NFL career.

  11. 300ZXNA on May 27th, 2013 9:44 pm

    Man, do those “Rendon, Franklin, Ackley, Smoak!” refrains from just two years ago feel like a decade ago.

    I know that the topic of losing intentionally in order to gain draft position has been roundly rejected around here, but it does appear that Washington did just that, and it paid off well for them.

  12. South Pacific on May 27th, 2013 9:53 pm

    Glad the brass had the courage to make the switch and see how both players go in their new environments.

  13. scraps on May 27th, 2013 10:11 pm

    Or the weakness to listen to the fans and media; depends on how you like the switch.

  14. Mariner Melee on May 27th, 2013 10:19 pm

    Eric Wedge on Dustin Ackley being to concerned with pitch selectivity and OBP: “It’s the new generation. It’s all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term, you know what I mean?” Wedge said. “People who haven’t played since they were 9 years old think they have it figured out. It gets in these kids’ heads.”

    …He has to go.

  15. PackBob on May 27th, 2013 10:22 pm

    Well, no, I didn’t know that Ackley was the first human experiment in cloning. Unfortunately, it appears a successful experiment so far.

    The M’s have really stuck by Ackley, and I hope it is because they really do see some light at the end of the tunnel. At least we have Seager, although he wasn’t as touted as Smoak/Ackley/Montero.

  16. MrZDevotee on May 27th, 2013 10:49 pm

    (I posted this at the end of today’s game thread, after seeing Wedge’s suggestion that Saber guys are getting in Dustin’s head… But thought it was better suited here…):

    How ’bout Eric Wedge, lifetime stats:

    .233/.340/.430 (3 years + 1 additional at-bat)

    Look familiar to anyone?

    Dustin Ackley – top hitting prospect
    .237/.307/.344

    Jesus Montero – top hitting prospect
    .258/.303 /.396

    Justin Smoak – top hitting prospect
    .225/.311/.373

    I’m gonna write off the OBP and Slugging% difference to the more dominant pitching nowadays, and the earlier years of Safeco’s dimensions…

    Why do 3 elite hitting prospects, all three heralded for their bats, end up needing to be sent down to the minors at almost the EXACT same time, in the exact same organization? (Smoak just got lucky with one of his hot streaks currently, or he’d be the 3rd sent down.)

    What or who had this effect on them? Hmmm….

    Essentially, Wedge has turned Ackley, Montero, and Smoak into himself…

    A guy who played 3 seasons, with a .230 average, and couldn’t stick in the majors.

    Ick.

    And get this… He played 6 games at catcher (only position he played, other than DH/PH… Hey, THAT’s why we have a shitload of DH/PH types on the team?!). As a catcher 5 out of 6 guys stole successfully against him. And he had 1 passed ball.

    That would be, in a season, 130 successful steals against him, to 26 caught… And 26 passed balls.

    Bingo. That explains our catchers the past few years too.

    And poor Wedge… NONE of those stats are Saberhead stats… That’s all 100% traditional suckiness.

    (Okay, okay… great conspiracy and all, but Wedge had less than 70 AB’s in his 3 years… It was fun to point out, though.)

  17. mearls on May 28th, 2013 12:19 am

    Ackley simply looks lost at the plate. It looks like he holds up when he should be aggressive, and hacks away when he needs to be patient.

    I’m hoping he just needs time down in AAA, but I think the window is closing.

    OTOH, maybe he just needs out of this organization. It’s been a good career path for a lot of guys…

  18. GLS on May 28th, 2013 1:15 am

    I think it’s really up to the player at this point. Sure, it’s a blow to get sent down after he’s been in the big leagues this long, but if he has the talent and he’s willing to put in the work, he should make it back as a better player in the long run. It’s up to him.

  19. Soda Popinski on May 28th, 2013 1:59 am

    First off – MrZDevotee, I’ve read your posts for a while now. Most have never stood out significantly one way or another, not saying that negatively – just that I don’t have an opinion. With that said, equating Ackley with Emtman is an idiotic comment. Once Dustin has not one, but TWO major knee injuries (to both knees of course,) I’ll follow your logic.

    I would be very curious to see a detailed analysis of WHY Ackley’s numbers were so good his rookie year. So good, that some on this blog wondered if the M’s got the better end of the deal in the draft – immediately after it was announced Strasburg had to have Tommy John surgery.

    With Ackley, was it pitchers/teams figuring out his vulnerabilities? A decline in his skills? Overperforming due to high BABIP, etc.?

    I have no clue as to the answer. This is why I comment twice a year and leave the rest to the professionals.

  20. mrb on May 28th, 2013 3:46 am

    There’s something inherently wrong with the Mariners. Every prospect busts; every veteran falls off a cliff. The team is cursed

  21. Woodcutta on May 28th, 2013 5:52 am

    At first I wasn’t for sending Ackley down but now that I’ve thought spent some time thinking about it, this could be just the thing that he needs. When a hitter gets in a bad slump it is just human nature for him to want to “fix” what is wrong. This can be their approach at the plate or their swing. Sometimes, as I think may be the case with Ackley, nothing needs to be fixed. It seems he has done everything but what he was doing throughout his entire career. When he was first called up he was being aggressive and patient. He waited for a pitch he could handle and got the head of the bat on the ball seemingly every time he made contact. With the non-development or even to some degree, negative development, of the M’s hitting prospects since ARod, there is a serious problem at the coaching/management level. This doesn’t seem to be an issue at the minor league level which is where I think Ackley will get all the help he needs without the constant pressure he was under at the MLB level.

  22. Bryce on May 28th, 2013 6:43 am

    For a group that prides itself on making decisions based on evidence, there seems to be a real rush to blame Wedge. What actual evidence is there that this is his fault? I think the guy is a mediocre manager at best, but come on.

    The reason Dustin Ackley is bad is Dustin Ackley, not Wedge. The reason Kyle Seager is good is Kyle Seager, not Wedge. If Ackley flames out it’ll be because he, like thousands of guys before him, was good in the minors but not good enough for the majors. It won’t be because his manager was horrible or brilliant.

    The real question is how does this team do a better job of identifying talent, so they end up with more Seagers and fewer Ackleys.

  23. furlong on May 28th, 2013 6:47 am

    I have always thought Ackley was a carbon copy of Reed.So I am not surprised the way his career has gone in Seattle. His new hitting stance to begin the season was doomed to failure from the get go.I have never put much faith in hitting coaches, there have only been a few who seemed to help and none I can remember in Seattle.

  24. SeattleSlew on May 28th, 2013 6:59 am

    MrZDevotee-

    Wedge is, what Wedge is. I blame the Front Office for him still being around.

    When he was in Cleveland they were desperate to build a real team. They let him go because they wanted to move away from mediocrity.

    Why don’t we trade Dustin Ackley for Don Mattingly?

    I would do it!

  25. SeattleSlew on May 28th, 2013 7:15 am

    I’m not here to blame it all on Wedge but one thing is for sure, big managers make a big impact on players and in the game.

  26. eponymous coward on May 28th, 2013 7:29 am

    There’s something inherently wrong with the Mariners. Every prospect busts; every veteran falls off a cliff. The team is cursed

    Except Felix. And Seager. And Morales. And…

    So… not so much.

  27. casey on May 28th, 2013 7:54 am

    when the Mariners called Ackley up after 60 games in Tacoma in 2011 he was hitting .303 with a .421 on base and .487 slugging percentage. Expected that he would pretty much instantly become our Trout or Harper. And he looked the part for the rest of 2011 hitting line drives everywhere and taking lots of walks. The head scratcher is how he turned from that high quality elite hitter into Willie Bloomquist after about 100 games as a Mariner.

  28. make_dave_proud on May 28th, 2013 8:09 am

    What Bryce said.

    Here’s the thing: at this point, the big three non-pitchers that were to lead this team out of the dark — Ackley, Smoak, Montero — are a collective fail. Three top prospects, 0 for 3.

    I’m not saying they’re finished, far from it. And while not everyone pans out, let’s be honest — nobody thought that *none* of these guys would pan out. And nobody thought that at least one of them wouldn’t have stuck by now.

    Sending Ackley and Montero down to Tacoma was the right thing to do for them, but their long-term with this team will be decided by someone other than Jack and Wedge.

    @casey – I noticed the difference started to come after one trip through the league. Since then, it seems every opposing pitcher has thrown Ackley the exact same stuff — pound the strike zone to get ahead in the count, then throw something off-speed and out of the zone and get him to chase.

  29. casey on May 28th, 2013 8:23 am

    so maybe he was hitting 3-1 counts in minors and agree he was constantly trying to hit 0-2 counts this season in majors. Maybe Wedge is right – needs to get his head around hitting early strikes until he proves he can and pitchers go back to nibbling early in the count with him. In this sense hitting at AAA may not help him. Would be interesting to do some analysis on pitch count hitting from 2011 til Sunday.

  30. JasonJ on May 28th, 2013 8:29 am

    I sincerely doubt that any of these guys are taking hitting advice from Eric Wedge. I think the scouts most likely got it wrong, or we chose to only focus on the plus-skills that they have (Montero’s power, Ackley’s plate discipline) while not looking at the overall package.

    Ackley looked great when he arrived but it’s not that unusual to see a prospect come up and do well only to struggle later on once the league adjusts. It’s disappointing that he hasn’t been able to figure it out and we probably all thought that a guy with his track record would be able to make the required adjustments.

    Either way, a spell in Tacoma can’t hurt him at this point and maybe Franklin can surprise and be another Seager and Ackley can rebound and move back to the outfield (lord knows we need more depth there).

  31. Westside guy on May 28th, 2013 9:11 am

    You guys are completely ignoring the elephant in the room. “Dustin Ackley Gnome Night” is July 13, and he may not be here for it.

    You think I’m kidding?

  32. Puffy on May 28th, 2013 9:14 am

    Ackley, Smoak, Montero were three of the most highly touted and pedigreed hitting prospects in baseball from 2009 – 2011. What does it mean that all of them – with now a significant sample of ML at bats – are significant busts relative to their projections?

    I mean, I understand that no prospect is a sure thing and all – and that these guys are still young. But these guys were all pretty much as close to being “sure things” as a prospect can get. For all three to flop is very discouraging.

  33. Bryce on May 28th, 2013 9:39 am

    If projection systems are not working, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the projection system.

  34. Westside guy on May 28th, 2013 10:09 am

    If the projection systems are mainly failing with regard to Mariners prospects, then it’s probably not the projection system’s fault – it’s the organization itself.

  35. scraps on May 28th, 2013 10:23 am

    Bryce, the reason folks were getting on Wedge re Ackley is the quotes.

  36. shorthopt on May 28th, 2013 10:41 am

    It seems like whenever Saunders, and Ackley get in a funk, about 80% of their at-bats end up in a 4-3 put-out. It happens so often I want to throw something through the television. Seager has a different swing entirely, but if he goes into a slide for a few games that is not how he makes outs….at least at the rate the other two do.
    Not sure how this can get corrected, but at the major league level, it seems that someone must have and answer to “4-3 disease”.

  37. The_Waco_Kid on May 28th, 2013 10:59 am

    The Wedge quote was moronic. Never has a stat guy suggested a walk is the ideal outcome, or opposed swinging at fat pitches. I mostly give Wedge the benefit of the doubt, since coach evaluation is so hard, but to go out of his way to say something so dumb makes me actually wonder if he’s making players worse. Hopefully he’s just mad and mouthing off.

  38. Bryce on May 28th, 2013 10:59 am

    You’re making an assumption that it’s entirely the organization’s analysis of the data that is flawed. I agree that that may well be the case, and given Z’s transaction history may well be the likely conclusion. But the consensus opinion seems to be that Ackley in particular was predicted to do great things by every model out there, but the fact that he is not succeeding is an indictment of the organization, not the model.

    My point is that it might be both. Question the organization, but also question the predictive models too if they appear to be failing. What if Ackley’s failure is not just organizational? What do we do now to learn from this going forward? There seems to be a lot of hand waving at failure that is disconcerting.

  39. ivan on May 28th, 2013 11:45 am

    I watched LH batting Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Wade Boggs through their entire careers, and Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn through most of his. All of them built HOF careers on their ability to not only hit the outside pitch to LF with authority — but to own the outside corner entirely. This is what Ackley lacks, and has lacked from the start. The outside corner owns him.

    I don’t know if it’s mechanics, or if it’s his mindset. But I feel certain that if the breakthrough comes, it will come when Ackley goes to bat with the plan to sit on the outside pitch and drive it to the left side — whatever he can cover, whatever he can get his bat on.

    In Carew’s case, pitchers conceded him the outside corner. Better to give him a single or a double than to have him pull an inside pitch into a gap somewhere. Boggs on occasion would muscle up on a ball he could pull. He also took a lot of walks. When they pitched Ashburn inside, he would work a walk, but with his great speed, he also chopped pitches on the hands into the dirt and legged out a lot of infield hits.

    Carew hit line drives all over the field before he mastered the outside corner and became a 5-6 hole wizard. Ashburn got to the bigs with blazing speed and insane flyhawking skills. Boggs spent six full seasons in the minor leagues before he ever batted in the AL. Don’t give up on Ackley. He needs to make the outside corner his bitch. Watch for it.

  40. Puffy on May 28th, 2013 12:21 pm

    Boggs was buried and blocked in the minors (Carney Lansford), repeating AA and AAA and then sitting on the bench for part of 1982, before finally getting the starting job and going on to bat .349 for the rest of the year. Boggs never struggled like Ackley. He never really had to figure anything out or make any adjustments.

  41. ivan on May 28th, 2013 1:16 pm

    “He never really had to figure anything out or make any adjustments.”

    Wow! That’s a pretty amazing statement. So you’re saying all he did for those six seasons in the minors was eat chicken and chase women?

    Ackley had 918 plate appearances in the minors before he batted in the AL. Boggs had 2,680. Boggs didn’t exactly come out of high school major-league ready. He was known at every stop he made for his work ethic and extra time in the cage. He came to the Red Sox a more polished hitter because he got the opportunity to learn and develop properly.

    That he was “buried” or “blocked by Lansford” might be true, but it isn’t really relevant. It didn’t mean that his learning curve was necessarily any less.

    We are learning that Ackley’s is probably greater than was expected. It doesn’t necessarily make him a bust. Wait and see what he learns. For all anyone knows, Ackley might be on a perfectly normal development track, and it’s people’s expectations for him that are out of whack.

  42. mln on May 28th, 2013 2:28 pm

    What’s really disturbing is that Willie Bloomquist may end up having a much longer and more productive MLB career than Dustin Ackley!

  43. Sideline observer on May 28th, 2013 4:12 pm

    Ackley also had 999 Plate Appearances in the ACC, one of the best baseball conferences. I’d guess he probably played some sort of summer ball as well. It’s not like the only good competition he faced was the day he made his pro debut.

  44. Puffy on May 28th, 2013 5:35 pm

    “Wow! That’s a pretty amazing statement. So you’re saying all he did for those six seasons in the minors was eat chicken and chase women?”

    -
    Not to knock Boggs’ work ethic, but we are talking about an almost supernaturally gifted hitter. And perhaps that’s the problem comparing Ackley to a couple of first ballot Hall of Famers in Boggs and Carew.

    I don’t think Boggs would have been hurt by a more accelerated development path. I think repeating AA and AAA was excessive – and even then he spent the first part of 1982 in Boston on the bench. I’m sure he made the most of his time in the minors, as you indicate, but he was overripe. In other words, I don’t think it took the 2,680 PA to make Boggs the hitter he was by 1982.

    I mean, I get your overall point and am just making a relatively insignificant nitpick which is, as you see, debatable. My apologies.

  45. vj on May 29th, 2013 2:05 am

    Jeff, if I believed in jinxes, I’d accuse you of having jinxed Ackley by comparing him to Reed.

  46. Vida Blue on May 30th, 2013 4:13 am

    I hope Ackley doesn’t read this post.

    It must be tough for a young guy starting out to be confronted with statistics telling him how bad he is compared to his peers and to anyone who ever held his job plus how unlikely it is that he will ever get any better.

    Are there statistics for writers that forecast how they will do down the road? Maybe after they have written, say, three million words, data could be produced showing with certainty that some writers will never reach the level of a Steve Kelley. Of course such a forecast wouldn’t apply to anyone who writes here.

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