Dustin Ackley, Still Patient
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.