Dustin Ackley, Still Patient

Dave · June 14, 2013 at 7:50 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Dustin Ackley has torn the cover off the ball since getting sent down to Tacoma, putting up a .479 wOBA in 16 games with the Rainiers. Reports have been good. He’s driven some extra base hits to left field. He’s apparently covering the plate and hitting balls on the outside half, and not just grounding them to second base. Even the outs are being hit hard.

Yesterday, Larry Stone talked to Brad Miller, and he asked about Ackley’s performance down there. Miller cited Ackley’s aggressiveness as one of the key reasons he’s doing well. Stone noted that the “Mariners wanted him to be more aggressive, and it sounds like he’s complying.”

About that. FanGraphs doesn’t have batted ball data for the minor leagues like we do for the majors because MLBAM doesn’t want to sell it to us, but there are a few sites out there who have set up code to scrape data from MILB.com’s Gameday logs, taking the play-by-play descriptions and even pitch-by-pitch notes and turning those into more in depth minor league numbers. One of these sites is Minor League Central, which has turned that data into a lot of the same numbers you can find for major leaguers on FanGraphs.

Here’s Dustin Ackley’s page at Minor League Central. Scroll down to the “pitches” section.

Accrording to this data — imperfect, most likely, but probably not entirely useless — Dustin Ackley is swinging at 30% of the pitches he’s been thrown in Tacoma. That’s less than he swung in Seattle. That’s less than he swung the last time he was in Tacoma. That’s less than Nick Franklin swung in Tacoma. In fact, of the 214 hitters who have gotten at least 75 plate appearances in the PCL this year, only one — someone I’ve never heard of named Connor Crumbliss — has swung less often than Dustin Ackley.

Without good zone data — and I don’t trust minor league zone data — we can’t know whether Ackley is being more aggressive at pitches on the outer half, or if he’s simply not swinging because minor league pitchers aren’t throwing him strikes, or if he’s just doing the same things he did in Seattle and having success. However, given that the PCL average swing rate is not that different from the major league average, and that many of his teammates in Tacoma are swinging more than 50% of the time, it seems unlikely that Ackley’s just faced a bunch of pitchers who can’t throw strikes, making the 30% swing rate mask the new aggressive approach he’s adopted.

More likely, Dustin Ackley is still Dustin Ackley. He’s always been a selective hitter, and it’s one of his best traits. The key has been for him to be selective with the right pitches. We don’t know if that’s happening in Tacoma or not, but I can say with some certainty that Dustin Ackley hasn’t revamped his swing decision process in Tacoma. If the Mariners really wanted him to become an aggressive hitter, they’re probably going to be disappointed when he comes back. That’s just not who he is.


45 Responses to “Dustin Ackley, Still Patient”

  1. wabbles on June 14th, 2013 8:14 am

    Do you remember that scene in “Roots: The Story of an American Family,” where Kunta Kinte is strung up and whipped until he says his name is Toby? Ackley will be figuratively whipped the same way by the Mariners’ major league manager and coaching staff until he adopts their “aggressive” approach and becomes the utterly worthless hitter they want him to become.

  2. stevemotivateir on June 14th, 2013 8:17 am

    Very interesting. I had been waiting to hear details on his progress there. Very encouraging.

    Real curious how the outfield transition comes along as well. Actually, I’d like to hear about Romero’s transition also.

  3. Klatz on June 14th, 2013 8:28 am

    A really good sign for me is that he’s not pounding the ball into the ground; he’s nearing the 200 PA (171PA) mark where GB rates are stabilizing. In the Majors he was at 55.6% and in AAA now he’s at 42%, right around his rates when he first came up.

  4. stevemotivateir on June 14th, 2013 8:36 am

    ^Uh, he’s at 85 PA’s. But yeah, getting the GB% is a good thing. Hard to find anything that doesn’t look good right now.

  5. Badbadger on June 14th, 2013 8:40 am

    Everyone seems aggressive when they’re hitting the crap out of the ball. Hitting things with big clubs is an inherently aggressive thing to do.

  6. spuuky on June 14th, 2013 8:44 am

    This pleases me.

  7. katal on June 14th, 2013 8:47 am

    This may sound facetious, but is there a reason behind some teams & coaching staffs preaching aggressiveness? Is there any historical context in which a dynasty won multiple championships because they were always swinging at the first pitch? Are there many Hall of Fame hitters who hated taking walks?

  8. Paul B on June 14th, 2013 8:59 am

    the utterly worthless hitter they want him to become

    I’m convinced that the perfect hitter that best exemplifies the Eric Wedge school of hitting is matched by the career statistics of Miguel Olivo. (.241-.275-.417)

    Or, if you will, 2013 Raul Ibanez. (.226-.270-.506)

  9. Paul B on June 14th, 2013 9:02 am

    Are there many Hall of Fame hitters who hated taking walks?

    I can only think of some of the true freaks of nature, like Kirby Puckett, Ichiro, Vlad. But they were each unique and no normal mortal should try to emulate any of them.

  10. Paul B on June 14th, 2013 9:05 am

    But having said that, as Dave alludes, it isn’t really whether Ackley is aggressive or not overall, it seems to be more how he handles certain pitch locations.

    It reminds me of Saunders a few years ago when we all gave up on him because of a similar issue. Which is why a month or so ago I asked what Josh Bard’s brother was doing nowadays.

  11. mrb on June 14th, 2013 9:13 am

    So, of the 201 strikes against him, 43% were called strikes. So he’s only swinging 57% of the time against strikes, in Tacoma.

    in Seattle, 39% of his strikes were called and he was swinging at strikes 61% of the time. given the sample sizes, i’d say the difference is insignicifcant

  12. StorminGorman on June 14th, 2013 9:18 am

    I don’t think “swings a lot” is the same thing as “being aggressive.”

    The issue with Ackley has been plate discipline and approach: knowing what pitches he can do something with, expecting to see one until his eyes tell him otherwise, and then driving the ball when he gets one he can hit.

    There are better indicators of an “aggressive” mindset than swing rates. I think OFB% is one, but then you say the data here is sketchy.

  13. raul_podzednick on June 14th, 2013 9:20 am

    I am under the impression that Zduriencik prizes patient and selective hitters.

  14. eddie on June 14th, 2013 9:23 am

    I say the Mariners trade Smoak, Ackley and Saunders for Connor Crumbliss. He’s 26 years old and in the Oakland organization. Oakland? You KNOW he has to be good!

  15. Gormogon on June 14th, 2013 9:29 am

    Plus, CRUMBLISS! Now there’s a ballplayer name.

  16. Choo on June 14th, 2013 9:34 am

    Dave, have you looked at Ackley’s swing percentages for each of the specific counts? It appears pitchers are taking advantage of his aggressive/passive tendencies in specific counts.

    And here is something a little more far-fetched, but not entirely beyond the realm of possibility: hitters, like pitchers, sometimes “tip” their swing. It’s rare at the major league level, but Ackley wouldn’t be the first hitter to change his hand position or posture ever so slightly if he was planning to take/swing.

  17. ivan on June 14th, 2013 9:35 am

    This entire post is a “straw man” argument. AL pitchers have been owning the outside corner on Ackley. He’s not having problems because he isn’t “aggressive.” He’s having problems because his recognition of outside pitches — and pitches on the outside part of the strike zone — is horseshit.

    From reading this post and some of the comments, you would think that Wedge wants Ackley to hack at pitches that are off the outside corner. That’s nonsense, of course. Wedge wants Ackley to swing at pitches that are ON the outside corner, and to drive them to the opposite field with some authority. THAT is the needed adjustment.

    If Ackley had good enough pitch recognition to take enough outside pitches to walk 100 times in a season, any manager with a hole in his ass would be happy with that.

  18. The Ancient Mariner on June 14th, 2013 9:58 am

    No, this isn’t a straw man; Dave is evaluating the news reports on Ackley’s AAA success against the data, such as we have.

  19. Celadus on June 14th, 2013 10:04 am

    I’ve seen most of Ackley’s games in the majors on television. When ROOT sports has deigned to show the pitch location, many of the times he’s been called out, it has been on a ball just off the plate on an outside pitch. Technically a ball, but quite often called a strike by umpires on left handed hitters.

    Ackley has better than good plate judgement of strikes, in my opinion. Better than the typical umpire. One of his problems has been that, unlike most other left handed hitters, he has not adjusted to swinging at the just-outside pitch on two strike counts instead of taking.

    This is just an impression, of course, but I’ve seen comments about his reluctance to swing at that non-strike. I would be interested in seeing one of those scatter diagrams to see whether this hypothesis can ascend the ladder into theory.

  20. killeverything on June 14th, 2013 10:15 am


    Wedge doesn’t have “a hole in his ass,” he has a hole in his head which opens up a whole new can of worms with player development.

  21. ivan on June 14th, 2013 10:24 am

    If the umpires are calling strikes on pitches that
    Ackley thinks are balls, then Ackley needs to adjust, because the umps aren’t going to.

    He hasn’t done that, and that is why he is playing for Tacoma now. If you want to make this about data — which Dave admits up front is incomplete — knock yourselves out. To me, it’s a matter of pitch recognition, hand-eye coordination, and muscle memory built through constant practice and repetition.

    More complete data, from which valid causal inferences can be drawn, is both necessary and desirable. But until the data can pass some threshold of validity, it puts the cart before the horse to rely on data to explain Ackley’s issues with the outside pitch. The physical evidence can — for now — tell us more.

  22. Paul B on June 14th, 2013 10:24 am

    Wow, he must be pretty constipated. No wonder he seems so grumpy.

  23. The Ancient Mariner on June 14th, 2013 10:59 am

    ivan, I’m not sure who you think you’re arguing with.

  24. ChrisFB on June 14th, 2013 11:15 am

    Apart from anything about swing rates and plate approach and plate discipline, Ackley’s take on this – or at least what he’s interested and comfortable in sharing publicly – is that this is all mental.

    News Tribune Article and Interview


    “The issue? A confidence crisis brought on by pressure and overthinking at the plate, he says. “I was just thinking too much up there,” Ackley said. “About not getting out, not doing this and not doing that when I should have taken the thoughts out of it.”

    “I’ve gone through slumps and failures and things like that, but I’ve always worked out of them,” Ackley said. “But those were kind of different. This year, it’s been more of a mental thing than about my swing, and just trying to think too much. The times I’ve hit well in my career, I’m not thinking about anything other than hitting baseballs, so I think that’s really what I’m trying to get back to right now.””

  25. ChrisFB on June 14th, 2013 11:25 am

    Also, can we not revive the meme that Wedge wants his club to be hacktastic free-swinging Carlos Peguero clones?

    He’s specifically said, multiple times, that “being aggressive at the plate” means looking for pitches to hit in the strike zone and hitting them. That the default should be to go up there hunting for a pitch to hit, instead of holding up until the last moment to swing. He is not averse to drawing walks. He is averse to guys standing up there and watching called strike three over and over.

    Wedge has more than his share of faults as a manager, but expecting all his players to be windmilling the bat, with a Vlad Guerrero-sized strike zone, isn’t one of them.

  26. Hutch on June 14th, 2013 11:43 am

    Not that it’s totally to blame for Ackley’s 2013, but it still melts my brain to try and comprehend why the Mariner’s coaching staff saw it prudent over the Spring to address Ackley’s problems with covering the outer half of the plate by opening his hips and facing him towards 1B.

  27. Joof on June 14th, 2013 12:31 pm

    That’s not what the coaches mean by aggressive at all, and it’s rather frustrating that people keep accusing the coaching staff of preaching hacking at everything. Ackley was super passive in the Majors, and he was swinging to not miss. When they say they want him to be more aggressive, they don’t want him to swing at slop, they want him to swing with the intent to drive the ball on hitable pitches, not just with the intent to fight off pitches as he seemed to be doing so often.

  28. Westside guy on June 14th, 2013 12:41 pm

    Okay, I know when Wedge is asked to explain what he means he says “swing at strikes”. But then when he’s been asked to name a player who exhibits the approach he likes…

    In 2011, he specifically name Miguel Olivo.

    In 2013, he specifically named Adrian Beltre.

    Now Beltre’s approach works for him, just as Ichiro’s approach worked for him and Vlad’s approach worked for him. But Beltre’s approach is not really what we want our young guys to emulate.

    So, frankly, I think those of us who claim Wedge is teaching a hack-tastic approach do have a legitimate reason to believe that.

  29. MrZDevotee on June 14th, 2013 12:45 pm

    As has been alluded to plenty of times, the problems of Ackley, Smoak and Montero won’t be fixed in the minor leagues… Because the pitches they can’t hit aren’t being thrown in the minor leagues.

    They can’t hit major league breaking balls, and guys don’t throw MAJOR LEAGUE breaking balls in the minors. They rarely throw breaking balls for strikes in the minor leagues (okay, rarely is hyperbole, but few guys have an “out” pitch that is a breaking ball in the minors)…

    Until he faces a ton of guys with wicked good breaking stuff, that gets thrown for strikes, who also have mid 90 fastballs, and mid 80s changeups (ie, real pitchers) we have no idea if he’s suddenly better.

    What we know is that NOT HAVING TO FACE those pitches, he’s suddenly better and who he always was before the major leagues.

    There’s a fact buried in there somewhere, knock, knock, knocking…

    Something along the lines of: I doubt he’s actually figured anything out. He’s back where he could handle the pitching and showing, yep, he can still handle AAA pitching.

  30. djw on June 14th, 2013 1:21 pm

    Here’s a depressing thought: when I looked up Ackley a few days ago, I wished he wasn’t quite doing *this* well, as it maximizes the chances he’ll be exposed to Wedge again. I’d rather see him come up in 2014 with new manager who’s not a complete moron.

  31. heyoka on June 14th, 2013 1:35 pm

    I could be wrong but I recall minor league performance at the AAA level is somewhat predictive of performance at the major league level – of course there’s usually a drop off, but at least when a guy is hitting around .400 he should be adequate in the majors. I know certain things don’t carry over, which is why guys with profiles like Vlad Balentin or Carlos Peguero can put up fairly monstrous numbers at AAA and do doodley squat in the majors, but Ackley doesn’t profile like one of those guys.

    It sounds to me like the MLB coaches got into his head too much and screwed him up. Probably what happened to Montero and Smoak too (although they may just be legitimate busts).

  32. scraps on June 14th, 2013 1:44 pm

    “Without good zone data — and I don’t trust minor league zone data — we can’t know whether Ackley is being more aggressive at pitches on the outer half, or if he’s simply not swinging because minor league pitchers aren’t throwing him strikes, or if he’s just doing the same things he did in Seattle and having success.”

    “This entire post is a “straw man” argument. AL pitchers have been owning the outside corner on Ackley. He’s not having problems because he isn’t “aggressive.” He’s having problems because his recognition of outside pitches — and pitches on the outside part of the strike zone — is horseshit.”

    Are you reading Dave? There is a “straw man” argument, but it’s not Dave’s.

  33. Athanasius on June 14th, 2013 2:13 pm

    “If the Mariners really wanted him to become an aggressive hitter, they’re probably going to be disappointed when he comes back. That’s just not who he is.”

    It’s unfortunate that the definition for “aggressive” as repeatedly defined by Wedge (driving pitches in the zone, laying off pitches outside the zone) was not provided in the post. Instead, we get a subtle insinuation that the patient Ackley is not what the Mariners want in a hitter. As defined by Wedge, patient means laying off of pitches outside the zone.

  34. f2aler on June 14th, 2013 2:32 pm

    I am an attorney, not a baseball expert, however, I cannot say I am overly impressed with Ackley’s performance in AAA – he is 25 years old and has over 1000 major leauge at bats.

    In my estimation, and the evidence clearly demonstrates that Franklin has equaled or surpassed Ackley at all levels, while being 3 years younger (excluding the MLB level due to smaple size).

    Maybe there is some evidence to suggest Ackley has a brighter future, but I haven’t seen it – perhaps it is defense, or some sort mechanical thing like Ackley has a really nice swing.

    Based on the numbers, I see, Ackley doesn’t have a future playing 2B in Seattle, and probably not anywhere.

  35. ivan on June 14th, 2013 2:38 pm

    Scraps, MrZDevotee beat me to it:

    “As has been alluded to plenty of times, the problems of Ackley, Smoak and Montero won’t be fixed in the minor leagues… Because the pitches they can’t hit aren’t being thrown in the minor leagues.”

    What Wedge might or might not regard as “aggressive” is not really relevant. What minor league “zone data” might or might not show is not really relevant.

    That is why I called Dave’s post a straw man argument. He threw stuff out there that wasn’t really relevant.

    All frequent bloggers run into this sooner or later. They have to come up with something to say, and some posts have more value than others do. If I didn’t value USS Mariner, you wouldn’t be reading this. If I didn’t value Dave’s commentary, I wouldn’t have been following him since he was a teenager. Sorry, but this post lacked substance.

    Ackley must drive pitches on the outer part of the strike zone to the opposite field, in the American League, period. I’m sorry if you’re confused by all this. I am not confused.

  36. smb on June 14th, 2013 2:45 pm

    The more time that passes, the more it seems to me that Ackley would be best off not listening to anyone affiliated with the club if they are giving advice on offense or urging changes to his plate approach, at least from the pro level.

    Ivan—your critique provides zero value. Why waste your valuable time providing worthless input? Just curious…

  37. scraps on June 14th, 2013 3:23 pm

    Oh, I am confused, eh, Ivan? And a straw man for Dave. I bet you win lots of arguments this way. Admired (but silent) looks, yes. I give in; too much for me.

  38. kinickers77 on June 14th, 2013 4:29 pm

    I’m telling Brad Miller you basically called him a liar.

  39. sawsatch on June 14th, 2013 4:31 pm

    Few batters see more than one very hittable pitch per at bat. One has to learn to
    1-hit those and
    2-learn to hit some of the others.
    In order to walk a lot one has to be able to foul off those pitchers pitches.

  40. Bryce on June 14th, 2013 6:43 pm

    Here’s the thing about Ivan. I’ve been reading him since the alt.sports.baseball.sea-mariners days, when he and people like Dave Cameron would talk about this stuff. To say that his critique provides zero value is ridiculous, because what’s clear to me is that above all else he watches the games, and watches them closely.

    What he and others are talking about in terms of an inability to cover the outside half of the plate is something you observe by watching somebody like Ackley hit. For those of you being critical of him, please, tell those of us reading how your observations of Ackley hitting major league pitching lead you to a different conclusion than Ivan’s. But if you haven’t watched him hit, if you’re relying on stats without putting your eyes on him, be honest about it. Because stats aren’t going to paint the picture that observations do in this specific case.

    Watch the games. Watch Ackley hit at the major league level. Watch pitchers pound the outer half of the plate. Watch Ackley, up to this point, be unable to deal with it. Clearly, after his first run through the majors, other teams identified a flaw in his approach through watching what he did, and they’ve exploited it ever since. It’s something he has to fix or he will never be successful above AAA.

    Ivan’s comments aren’t worthless. They’re the exact opposite. It’s the difference between Ackley ending up being a worthwhile major league player and a bust, which he has been up to this point in his career.

  41. scraps on June 14th, 2013 11:44 pm

    (Just for the record, I wasn’t the one who called Ivan’s comments worthless. His comments on baseball are sound most of the time. I said his style of disagreement sucked.

    There are people who observe Ackley and who come up with the same conclusions; I don’t feel I am missing something, along with rudeness and bad arguments.)

  42. cougarcountry on June 15th, 2013 9:34 am

    I blame bloggers.

  43. stevemotivateir on June 15th, 2013 11:08 am

    Wait, so the level of talent at AAA actually isn’t as good as it is at the ML level?

    Learn something new everyday.

  44. djw on June 15th, 2013 4:27 pm

    That is why I called Dave’s post a straw man argument. He threw stuff out there that wasn’t really relevant.

    After your first post, I suspected you didn’t understand what a “straw man argument” is. You have unequivocally confirmed my suspicion.

  45. ivan on June 16th, 2013 8:19 am

    Let’s agree to operate in an atmosphere of mutual disrespect, then.

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