Dustin Ackley: Player Of Not No Consequence

Jeff Sullivan · August 26, 2013 at 3:09 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

They say the key to good writing is to give away the ending immediately and insult your audience, so, listen up, idiots: in this post, Dustin Ackley is not figured out. This post is not the last word on Dustin Ackley; this post cannot tell his future. No baseball post can ever tell anyone’s future, no matter the evidence presented, but here I’ll admit it up front. Lower all of your expectations. This is, essentially, commentary, dressed up as freshman analysis.

I told myself I wouldn’t write about post-recall Ackley until he hit a home run. I wasn’t actually going to hold myself to that, at least in the event Ackley never homered again, but just yesterday afternoon, Ackley went deep off Jered Weaver with what I’ll lovingly refer to as a puddlejumper. I think that word conveys the right impression, even if it doesn’t make any sense on its own in a baseball context. Yesterday might’ve been the best game yet for Ackley since he returned from Tacoma, and though none of his teammates thought to contribute themselves, this was a game between the Mariners and the Angels, and the wins and losses didn’t matter. At this point we’re in it for the individual storylines, and Ackley’s been busy writing one. One of success, one of redemption.

The most popularly-cited split these days: Ackley’s performance since the All-Star break. Over just short of 100 plate appearances, Ackley has hit a spectacular .330, with an encouraging .833 OPS. That’s more like the Dustin Ackley we expected to play for the Mariners, and less like the decent-hitting pitcher Ackley used to hit like. Whenever a pitcher bats, and an announcer says “for a pitcher, he can swing the bat,” what the announcer leaves off is, “he still sucks though.” Ackley was hitting like a pitcher when he went down. Now he’s back! Look at those numbers since the All-Star break!

You might immediately see one problem. Well, really, two. One, it’s not even a hundred plate appearances. Two, Ackley wasn’t brought back from Tacoma during the All-Star break. Ackley returned to the Mariners in time to play on June 26, and between then and the break, he went 9-for-44. Just because there are pre- and post-break splits doesn’t mean they make sense to use, since that’s just a widely accepted arbitrary endpoint. Since his recall, over nearly 150 plate appearances, Ackley has hit a solid .289, with an acceptable .738 OPS. Those initial numbers can’t just be discarded.

But, all right. Two things: that’s certainly an improvement over Ackley’s .516 OPS when he went down. Tuberculosis would be an improvement over a .516 OPS. And, maybe Ackley is just getting more and more comfortable. So maybe what he’s done after the break means more than what he did just before the break. If I recall, the Mariners didn’t want to bring Ackley back quite as soon as they did. And last year, after working on his swing in Tacoma, Justin Smoak came back and had a lousy August before a five-alarm September. Everything is a process, and why wouldn’t players be able to get better and better?

The important thing is that Dustin Ackley has been hitting. He’s been spraying line drives and hitting balls to gaps, and yesterday he finally sent a ball over a fence. People who know about this stuff have pointed out some improved swings, and Ackley himself says he’s feeling more confident. Subjectively, he’s been making better and more consistent contact, and that’s what’s been driving the improved results. The good version of Dustin Ackley looks a lot more like this guy than this same guy in April, or last summer. There’s no question we’re seeing improvement.

What’s maybe most interesting is how the improvement is mostly psychological. Ackley has admitted he wasn’t ready to hit before, and now he’s feeling more like himself. This season, we don’t observe big changes in his swing rates. Ackley hasn’t gone from being passive to being aggressive, not outwardly, not in the numbers. Though he’s swung more in the second half, he’s also seen more pitches in the zone than any other Mariner in the second half, and that’ll lift a guy’s swing rate. You’re not going to figure out Dustin Ackley by examining his plate-discipline statistics.

Because in there, it’s all subtle. In there, too much is lost or left out. Let’s look at some numbers from 2011 to the present. One of these players is Dustin Ackley since his debut.


  • Player A: 25%
  • Player B: 25%


  • Player A: 54%
  • Player B: 54%


  • Player A: 39%
  • Player B: 39%


  • Player A: 51%
  • Player B: 50%


  • Player A: 19%
  • Player B: 20%

The other of those players is Mike Trout, by the way. It doesn’t matter which is which, because everything’s basically the same, and we all know that Dustin Ackley has slumped and Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball. By the plate-discipline numbers, Ackley and Trout have a whole lot in common. By the more important numbers, they don’t, so we know there’s nothing crippling about Ackley’s plate-discipline profile. Probably, a good version of Ackley would profile very similarly, because he’s not the type to turn into an over-aggressive hacker.

Ackley’s always going to be a little more patient than average, and he’s always going to make more contact than average. This was the case when he was bad, and this remains the case now that he’s been pretty all right. The changes are somewhat to his swing but mostly in his head, and so it’s hard to find those changes in the sabermetric details. We’re left more settling with observation of his in-game performance and his wOBA or OPS or whatever you like to like.

Ackley’s been seeing a lot of strikes, and lately he’s been hitting them pretty hard. Finally, he hit a home run, and we’ll see if pitchers start nibbling a little more. Then there could be an opportunity for Ackley to draw a few more walks, since he hasn’t been walking, since he hasn’t really been getting the chances. As Ackley has wanted to be more aggressive, pitchers have cooperated by also being more aggressive. Now we’ll see if someone responds to the other someone.

For Ackley, the problem’s never been as simple as the lefty strike. Somehow that idea took off, but it’s always been more complicated, and earlier this season Ackley’s confidence hit a professional low. His confidence pretty much mirrored Tom Wilhelmsen’s, and as difficult a concept as that is to analyze, confidence is one of the most fundamental components of on-field success. Enough smart players have said as much, to smart people. Now Ackley’s confidence is returning, and with a tweaked swing, he’s generating numbers that aren’t pathetic. Ackley, in short, is making himself worth paying attention to again. He got dangerously close to going the way of Jesus Montero.

Don’t know if he’s going to keep hitting. Don’t know if he’s actually going to hit for any real power. Don’t know what position he’s going to play, or for which team. So, don’t know Dustin Ackley’s realistic career WAR ceiling. There’s lots I don’t know about Dustin Ackley these days. But one thing I do know is that Dustin Ackley made me want to look at his recent statistics. And I don’t mean hate-look, the way I look at Aaron Harang’s statistics. There might still be a future with Dustin Ackley in it. Along the Jeremy Reed career path, Ackley might have found a spur.


10 Responses to “Dustin Ackley: Player Of Not No Consequence”

  1. spuuky on August 26th, 2013 3:29 pm

    I know a few things about Dustin Ackley, but they’re mostly stuff like “how to spell his name” and “what Major League organization he’s currently signed with” rather than useful stuff, like his astrological sign.

    Pisces, by the way. Per Astrology.com, “many people associate Pisces with dreams and secrets, and it’s a fair association, since those born under this sign feel comfortable in an illusory world.”

    Good for him.

  2. bookbook on August 26th, 2013 3:44 pm

    It’s pretty clear that Ackley overheard Sullivan saying, “Jeremy Reed.” Ever since, his confidence has been shot. As Wedgie says, it’s the sabr guys’ fault.

  3. Athanasius on August 26th, 2013 4:14 pm

    “What’s maybe most interesting is how the improvement is mostly psychological.”

    I often see it written that since subjective perception/confidence/chemistry can’t be measured, that we can’t say with any certainty that they have any bearing on performance. The converse statement is equally true: because these issues can’t be measured, we also cannot say with any certainty that they do not have any bearing on performance.

    I understand wanting to make reasoned and well-informed decisions, but it strikes me as being foolish to over-emphasize the first statement without remembering the second.

  4. Breadbaker on August 26th, 2013 4:17 pm

    They showed the combined no-hitter on TV last night and the difference between Wilhelmsen 2012 and Wilhelmsen 2013 seems much like the difference between Ackley 2011 and Ackley 2012-13.

    There are no measurements of confidence that you can find statistically, but I can say anecdotally that changes of management have a remarkable impact on confidence. Does that say that Eric Wedge should be fired? No (he’s been here with Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak, too). But it does raise the question whether a different voice might make a difference in developing a Dustin Ackley who is, after all, the highest draft pick the M’s have had since ARod.

  5. qwerty on August 26th, 2013 4:18 pm

    Ok so he improves his hitting. But where does he play? Weak throwing arm. Not a corner OF bat (if you believe in that sort of thing.2B is not going to happen. Is there a place for a 2b/dh/1b/of like him?
    My guess is he keeps improving and he gets packaged for an OFer in the off season.

  6. ivan on August 26th, 2013 5:18 pm

    If he’s hitting better than Franklin is, he plays 2B.

  7. Ralph_Malph on August 27th, 2013 7:27 am

    I would have really liked the line “tuberculosis would be an improvement over a .516 OPS” except for how it put an image of Yuniesky Betancourt into my head. And once that image gets there, you can’t get rid of it.

  8. stevemotivateir on August 27th, 2013 9:56 am

    ^Thanks for sharing the virus.

  9. PouxBear on August 27th, 2013 11:03 pm

    You are way off. The reason he has been better is because he has been grinding out AB’s. Clearly he wasn’t doing that earlier.

  10. Mariner.lovechild on September 1st, 2013 8:59 pm

    Stay on the upswing Ackley! I definitely want to see him stick around.

    Thought he was a great 2B, personally.

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