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
Ackley: 1.9 WAR/600 PA
Ackley: 84 wRC+
Ackley: .285 BABIP
Ackley: .107 isolated slugging
Ackley: 86% contact
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.