In Fairness (But)

Jeff Sullivan · May 28, 2013 at 4:13 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


20 Responses to “In Fairness (But)”

  1. argh on May 28th, 2013 4:27 pm

    The War on Reason hits baseball. What’s next, Sarah Palin for Commissioner?

  2. jordan on May 28th, 2013 4:29 pm

    I find this to be interesting. Because if Ackley and/or Montero go down and start hitting again or “regain their stroke” that, to me, just shows it’s the MLB coaching. If they continue to suck, then maybe it’s just on the player.

    Obviously, we can expect them to hit better in AAA, but if they return to MLB quality, then I think it’s time to realize the current coaching staff needs to go.

  3. terryoftacoma on May 28th, 2013 4:33 pm

    Having worked with “stars” in another field of employment. There might be another reason we’re missing. He came through the system being a first round draft choice. He got to the majors on raw talent. He didn’t have to listen to coaches to get here. He doesn’t swing at pitches that he thinks are balls even if by now he should know they are probably going to be called a strike. Could be he’s very stubborn in his mind set and hasn’t seen where he needs to change.To him, he’s just been unlucky. This a wake up call that he needs to listen and learn.

  4. SeattleSlew on May 28th, 2013 4:35 pm

    It is also possible that these guys are just AAA players who will always have difficulty in the MLB.

  5. MrZDevotee on May 28th, 2013 5:00 pm

    Now what good does that do, Jeff…? To just calm everybody down and be the voice of reason?

    Although, I have to admit- you tackled the issue with a lot of grit and used your veteran writer-ness to steer us back on track.

    Well done, sir.

  6. henryv on May 28th, 2013 5:03 pm

    Personally, I blame:

    1. Thermal expansion.
    2. The Pauli Exclusion Principle.
    3. The emission spectrum of Argon.

  7. Celadus on May 28th, 2013 5:22 pm

    I blame Xeno’s paradox.

    The coaching staff is always getting them halfway better, then half of that half, then half of that half . . .

    UNFORTUNATELY the coaching starts out half-assed, so the limit at infinity isn’t one (where one equals the best the hitter can do), it’s one-half.

  8. Paul B on May 28th, 2013 5:30 pm

    What is Josh Bard’s brother doing these days, and can he move to Tacoma?

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

    I’m fascinated by how Jeff Sullivan’s mind works. What an incredibly gifted writer, even just his “average” posts.

  10. scraps on May 28th, 2013 7:15 pm

    henryv: But what about niacin deficiency??

  11. robbbbbb on May 28th, 2013 7:17 pm

    The War on Reason hits blog comments. What’s next? [Insert person whose politics I don’t like] for blog comment moderator?

  12. The_Waco_Kid on May 28th, 2013 7:38 pm

    A) Wedge mischaracterized sabrematricians.

    B) Any argument for blaming sabrematricians is just silly.

    C) Do your job, Wedge! Don’t make excuses. Don’t bitch about your crtiics.

  13. Westside guy on May 28th, 2013 8:28 pm

    “UNFORTUNATELY the coaching starts out half-assed, so the limit at infinity isn’t one (where one equals the best the hitter can do), it’s one-half.”

    I think your reasoning is off.

    If they start out half-assed, then get half more, then half again… what it means is eventually the coaching staff will approach – but never reach – fully-assed.

  14. henryv on May 28th, 2013 9:03 pm

    Drunk Nate Silver predicts that Eric Wedge will be fired on June 12th.

  15. PackBob on May 29th, 2013 1:31 am

    I doubt that sabermetrics creeps much beyond the threshold of the door in Wedge’s mind. It’s that thing outside that makes noise once in a while and that other people talk about.

    In defense of Wedge (hard to write that), he thinks in terms of what he has experienced and in the jargon of the professional baseball player. The reference to sabermetrics is him throwing his hands up and saying I don’t know what’s wrong, I’ve tried everything I know, but let’s see if he can fix it in AAA.

  16. vj on May 29th, 2013 3:23 am

    Could it be that Wedge’s statement is based on things Ackley said to him or other members of the coaching staff?

  17. scraps on May 29th, 2013 4:34 am

    Again, this,

    It’s all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term, you know what I mean?

    indicates that Wedge is laying the blame on “sabremetrics stuff”; Ackley didn’t use those words, otherwise Wedge would have blamed sabremetrics directly.

    And really, turn Wedge’s words around and imagine Ackley saying them. It’s the language of blame, not the language of blame-taking. Certainly Ackley and Wedge talked, but we have Wedge’s version filtered through Wedge’s prejudices. I think if Ackley were interviewed about this conversation and Ackley’s troubles hitting, it would be considerably different (and considerably more interesting).

  18. refusetolose on May 29th, 2013 5:56 am

    Sabremetrics isn’t to “blame” but lauding his plate knowledge t doesn’t help.

    In 2009, major league hitters hit:
    .156 in 0-2 counts
    .171 in 1-2 counts
    .189 in 2-2 counts
    .233 in 3-2 counts

    Dustin Ackley takes a lot of strikes (37% called strike rate) and consistently puts himself in 2 strike counts. If you take pitches, especially strikes, which major league pitchers are capable of throwing, you are going to find yourself in these counts more often than not. Hence the low BA.

    Furthermore, mechanically–Ackley has an unbelievably open stance. What does this mean? It means he can’t hit the inside pitch well.

    Hitters sight it as giving them a better view of the inside pitch, maybe, but all it does is mean that when he strides, he’s striding into the plate, rather than out to the pitcher.

    What this does is mean than on any inside pitch he has to step in to the plate and swing at the same time. Tough task.

    Strong players like Frank Thomas could just stay open and muscle those balls, he can’t.

    His problem lies with his reluctance to hit fastballs early in the count and his setup giving him a distinct weak spot in the strike zone.

    Keep up the great work though. Love your writing.

  19. eddie on May 29th, 2013 8:13 am

    I think that sabermetrics are probably getting into Wedge’s head is more the case. He is an old dog with no new tricks and probably doesn’t know how to deal with some of the sabermetrics informaton.

    Like the post about Justin Smoak, and how poorly he has played. The post about how Wedge should have stacked the line up with lefthanders instead of righthanders against Tom Milone. How does he handle these attacks on his managership? How can Smoak be the worst player to ever play the game and be a player that Wedge has coached and advised, given him his two cents about his problems? (“Justin, you have to barrel up that ball!”) How can he be missing obvious strategic moves if he considers himself a good manager?

    Well, he can try to dismiss the naysayers, every one of them, and say nobody knows what they are talking about except him, and to keep on keeping on being an old dog.

  20. henryv on May 29th, 2013 3:14 pm

    Refusetolose, you’re kind of ignoring the other 63% of pitches.

    Getting deep into counts when the pitcher doesn’t throw good pitches is the key. Swinging at a strike because it’s a strike isn’t much better than swinging at balls, depending on where they are thrown.

    If Ackley can’t hit an inside fastball, swinging at it isn’t any help, in any count. The best he might do is roll it over weakly to first or second.

    There is quite literally HORDES of data showing the value to an individual as well as a team at taking pitches. Because Dustin Ackley sucks at it doesn’t make it not true, as Wedge implies.

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