In Fairness (But)
By now you’ve seen what Eric Wedge had to say about Dustin Ackley, and the sabermetricians that live inside his head. Ackley has been demoted on account of his not hitting in the majors. Wedge has elected to blame, at least in part, numbers guys who emphasize the importance of OBP and plate discipline. What Wedge seems to be suggesting is that Ackley hasn’t been aggressive enough, that he’s been caught in between and that’s why he hasn’t looked comfortable.
Dave pointed out that we’ve been calling Ackley pretty passive for a while. From the sabermetric perspective, with Ackley, specifically, it’s been evident that he’s had weak spots within the strike zone. We liked Ackley a lot because he seemed like the sort to hit line drives and draw walks and get on base, but part of that is hitting line drives, and without the line drives, you won’t get the walks, either. We’ve wanted for Ackley to change. We’ve understood his approach wasn’t working.
In fairness to Wedge, he probably wasn’t thinking about the sabermetric discussion of Ackley, specifically. Do you really think Wedge is that up to speed on the current state of sabermetrics? Wedge probably knows about Moneyball, and his idea of sabermetrics is probably all about walks and OBP, like things were a decade ago. What Wedge sees is a guy who hasn’t been practicing controlled discipline. Ackley hasn’t done enough to pitches in the strike zone. Wedge knows numbers guys like walks, and he knows Ackley knows he’s been celebrated in the past for his control of the strike zone. Ackley would’ve known people loved his OBP, so it’s possible he got his priorities crossed.
I’m not explaining this well, so let’s try an example. Let’s say we’re talking about lineup protection. It doesn’t matter who the next hitter actually is; it matters how he’s perceived by the catcher, pitcher, and manager. It doesn’t matter what sabermetrics actually say about Ackley. It matters what Ackley might actually think, and it’s possible Ackley got too focused on walks and deep counts. Which could lead to passiveness, which could lead to pitcher aggressiveness, which could lead to fewer walks, and fewer hits. Maybe Ackley has been in between. Wedge is the guy who’s been with him all this time. Maybe Ackley has over-prioritized walks and under-prioritized hits. I don’t know and can’t know.
It’s evident from this, and from the rest of life, that Wedge doesn’t hold the sabermetric movement in high regard. Which makes sense, since the sabermetric movement, in turn, doesn’t hold Eric Wedge in high regard. That’s on one hand frustrating and on the other hand okay, in that a manager doesn’t have to be a sabermetrician to win. Lots of stat-idiot managers have won in the past, and it’s more important to have the statistically intellectual guys in the front office, making roster decisions. Managers manage what they’re given, and it’s not the end of the world that Eric Wedge doesn’t know what wRC+ means. More troubling is that Wedge and the front office work closely together. This is somewhat indicative of the shift in the Mariners’ philosophies over the past few years.
Here’s the But. Maybe the other But. Let’s say Wedge is right about Ackley, that he’s been caught in between because he hasn’t been aggressive enough. Let’s say Wedge understands what Ackley has been doing wrong. What does it say that Ackley is off to Tacoma to try to get things straightened out? What does that say about the major-league coaching staff? If Ackley had the wrong ideas in his head, isn’t it the big-league coaches’ responsibility to address that? Why is the thinking that the guys in Tacoma are better-equipped to handle this?
So maybe they decided Ackley wouldn’t help the Mariners any time soon, and they didn’t want to continue hurting the major-league team by keeping Ackley around and working on things. Maybe they just think Nick Franklin is better at the moment. But what about all the work to date? In June 2011, Ackley had a .953 OPS. In July 2011, he had an .876 OPS. In August 2011, he had a .751 OPS. Ackley hasn’t surpassed .751 since in any month. Ackley has played ten months in the majors since August 2011. In two of those, he’s posted an OPS over .700. Where has the progress been? Why has Ackley been getting worse under Eric Wedge’s watch, if Wedge has known what the problem was?
For all I know, maybe Ackley just can’t be helped. Maybe the Mariners have worked with him on the right things, and they simply haven’t taken. That would be on Ackley, not the sabermetricians who like it when players find ways to get on base a lot. Maybe the demotion is just getting Ackley out of the way so Franklin can get a shot to take the job and run with it. Seems to me there are three possible parties at fault for the way Ackley has gone:
- Dustin Ackley
- the Mariners
- mysterious sabermetricians
Wedge called out the last one. The first two should share the overwhelming majority of the blame. Ackley hasn’t had the right approach, and the Mariners haven’t been able to work with him to fix it. Wedge, in the past, has been all about taking accountability. Not in this case, though. In this case, it’s the fault of the nerds. The nerds who polluted Ackley’s mind with ideas like “draw walks” and “reach base somehow.”
Some people blame the Mariners entirely for the failure of some young players to develop. Seems to me the players can’t be absolved, and Ackley needs to figure his crap out. But the Mariners haven’t helped. Ackley hasn’t been good since August 2011, and the Mariners haven’t helped. The latest attempt involves taking Ackley out of Eric Wedge’s hands. Interesting, that.