Don’t Try To Fight Your Good Dustin Ackley Feeling

Jeff Sullivan · August 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

By and large, your brain is pretty smart. It’s pretty good about looking out for itself and for its host body, and it’ll usually tell you what it wants. You have instincts and first impressions and feelings for a reason, and though these days we have feelings about things our bodies never could’ve known would exist, there’s a lot of validity in listening to yourself. Your brain will tell you if a song is pleasing. It’ll tell you if the weather’s uncomfortable outside. It’ll tell you if you’re in the mood to socialize, or if you’d be better off laying low. Most of the things you think, you think because of your brain, which is something I learned in college. And your brain has reasons for sending signals, even if you might not always understand what they are.

Right now, your brain is telling you that you want to believe in Dustin Ackley again. Of course, you’ve been through this, and you’re not alone — we’ve all been through this. Dustin Ackley has been through this. But this time, like the other times, you want to believe. Your brain is sending those signals.

It’ll also indicate to you, in a minute, that I might be a wet blanket for pointing out certain things. Over his last 112 plate appearances, Ackley’s posted an .887 OPS. That’s very good. It’s unquestionably encouraging, as we all continue to wait for Dustin Ackley to turn into himself. But then earlier this very season, Ackley managed an .823 OPS over 86 plate appearances. In 2011, he had a stretch with a .921 OPS over 167 plate appearances. In 2012, there was a run of an .822 OPS over 102 plate appearances. In 2013, there was a run of an .851 OPS over 120 plate appearances. Dustin Ackley’s had hot streaks before. Every single time, we wanted to think he’d figured things out. Every single time has led to this year, where Ackley still has a below-average batting line. He has a below-average career batting line, and he’s coming up on 2,000 trips to the plate in the bigs.

Your brain wants you to believe. Your brain wants you to ignore skeptics or otherwise discouraging information. Your brain doesn’t want you to bum yourself out. Some of you might be trying to override your own brains, trying to use it to convince itself that there’s no sense getting excited this time, on account of all the previous times. But, you want to have a good Dustin Ackley feeling. So you should embrace it. Why the hell fight the hope, even if the hope’s been spoiled before?

Isn’t that kind of the whole point? Fan projections are always more optimistic than objective projections, and reality. Fans tie themselves into knots every season trying to see reasons why the next year could be The Year. Every time a young player turns things on, we entertain the idea that they’re breaking out. We’ve been there with Ackley and god knows we’ve been there with Justin Smoak. Most of the time the breakouts aren’t breakouts at all, but every so often there’s a Michael Saunders, or a Michael Brantley, or a Jose Bautista. In theory, being skeptical can protect you from further disappointment, but do you really want to be a sports fan on the defensive? This is the one part of your life where you can entertain unreasonable dreams. And it feels better to hope. That’s why your brain wants you to do it.

This isn’t a situation like junk food and exercise. In those areas your brain can be cruel — it tells you to keep eating junk food, and it tells you that exercise sucks, and then it’s hard to stay in consistent shape. The downside of giving in and eating junk food without exercising is that you die soon. The downside of allowing your hopes to get up in following a sports team is that you’ll be let down a lot, but you’re likely to be let down anyway, and the upside is that you can actually enjoy your damned self. You can be aware of the analysis, you can do your own analysis, and you can still let yourself get carried away. It isn’t going to hurt you, and you get to experience more smiles and less dread.

In any given season, the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against the Mariners winning the World Series. We know that, we all know that, but we still watch to see how the story plays out. By investing ourselves at all in the first place, we’re selecting hope over reason, so why then draw lines? It’s all silly irrational nonsense, and the goal is to maximize the good, not to minimize the bad. These aren’t your savings. These aren’t even your real, important, deeply-significant feelings. These are your feelings about a hobby, and sports-depression is nothing like life-depression. Sports-depression isn’t something you need to protect yourself against, unless you’re way too wrapped up. Sports-depression makes you unhappy watching a ballgame. Life-depression makes you unhappy doing anything, and those aren’t the stakes here. You can be a dreamer because why the hell not?

I don’t know if Dustin Ackley’s figured things out. I honestly suspect nobody does. I suspect even the Mariners are taking this one day at a time, Ackley included. My guess is that Ackley hasn’t figured things out, or that he’s temporarily figured things out, and pitchers will soon make him figure other things out. That’s the rational part of my brain, responding to a request for consultation. But that’s not a part of my brain I like to consult very often when I’m watching a game where I want a team to win, because that’s the side of my brain that doesn’t have fun. That’s the side I need for important life decisions, but choosing whether to believe in Dustin Ackley again isn’t anywhere near the top of my important-life-decision list. Those decisions I leave up to the young party side, and that side has been burned a lot and recovers fast. Young people can recover from anything, and it’s the hopeful part of your brain that preserves your youth, even when you’re hoping against probability.

Maybe Dustin Ackley’s finally arriving. Maybe he’s going to quit it with his annoying little drift in the batter’s box, and maybe now he’s going to be that consistent line-drive machine he was supposed to be from the beginning. Maybe Jesus Montero’s turned himself into the answer at DH, and maybe D.J. Peterson is less than a season away. Maybe everything good. We already know that Ackley has turned himself into a pretty good defensive corner outfielder. We’re already seeing him improving. If the bat’s for real, he’s a core piece, and a vital asset down this particular stretch run. Maybe Dustin Ackley is valuable. If he’s not, I know I can take it, but I don’t see the value in bracing yourself against a pain that won’t hurt. This is sports. This isn’t even sports — this is one player out of a lot of players in sports. People seem to have more fun on roller coasters with their arms up.


27 Responses to “Don’t Try To Fight Your Good Dustin Ackley Feeling”

  1. Westside guy on August 6th, 2014 8:24 pm

    I am trying to believe, honest! But I’ve been burned by Ackley before…

    It sure would be nice, though, if it turned out most of our outfield no longer sucked!

  2. TherzAlwaysHope on August 6th, 2014 8:47 pm

    At least he no longer looks “lost” at the plate.

  3. PackBob on August 6th, 2014 10:08 pm

    Right now my brain is telling me to believe in Jeff Sullivan telling me to believe in Dustin Ackley again. My brain has also been telling me, though from afar, to believe in Dustin Ackley again, with no help from Jeff Sullivan.

    Two positive thoughts regarding Dustin Ackley’s hitting are better than one (or none). And if Dustin Ackley flops, I can now blame my hopeful feeling on Jeff Sullivan.

    Thank you very much, Jeff, for letting me off the hook!

  4. fallingceilingtiles on August 6th, 2014 10:21 pm

    long live positivity!

  5. Dennisss on August 6th, 2014 10:32 pm

    Given the title, I thought this post would be about why it’s actually rational to think that Ackley may have turned the corner. I read every word and still didn’t see that part.

    Thanks though for providing whatever flimsy excuse for telling myself that The Great Dustin Ackley, the version we always knew he could be, has finally arrived.

  6. msfanmike on August 7th, 2014 6:33 am

    Westy, buy a balm.

  7. stevemotivateir on August 7th, 2014 7:41 am

    One day at a time. I don’t want to believe anything definitive with Ackley right now.

    Frankly, Zunino concerns me more. I’m a bit desensitized with Ackley, but I would be heartbroken if we’re seeing Zunino’s peak.

    It’s incredibly annoying hearing people suggest his HR’s make him an offensive asset.

  8. Chris_From_Bothell on August 7th, 2014 8:12 am

    Sorry, he’s still Second Halfley until he proves otherwise. He’s always been a better second half player. Whatever he seems to have figured out, needs to be the new normal, and when the league figures him out again, he needs to not take half a season to adjust back.

    Someone needs to get him a calendar that goes June-June-June-June-June-June-July-August-September-October-June-June.

  9. heyoka on August 7th, 2014 8:26 am

    The downside with upside is downside.

  10. rick m on August 7th, 2014 9:28 am

    Why on earth would you feel that a 23 year old catcher with 534 PAs in the major leagues is hitting his peak, Steve? Wow, that is depressing. A .429 slugging percentage with a .219 ISO from a defensively good catcher is pretty exciting. It must be the Jesus Montero experience that has you spooked into thinking it may not get any better than it is now.

  11. heyoka on August 7th, 2014 9:41 am

    Rick m, hopefully Steve’s not on to something, but…..
    Fangraphs did recent research to suggest aging curves have changed such that players essentially are at their peak when they arrive in the majors.

  12. benthic on August 7th, 2014 9:49 am

    Does anyone else have REO Speedwagon stuck in their head after reading this?

    No? Just me?

  13. Westside guy on August 7th, 2014 10:35 am

    Having slept on it, I’ve come to think Jeff is simply saying “enjoy Dustin right now while he’s hitting” – just like we should enjoy the Mariners right now while they’re in the hunt for the wild card. No one knows how he’ll be doing a month from now… but so what?

    It’s summer, the days are sunny, I’m on vacation, Dustin Ackley is hitting.

    I’ll bite my tongue and refrain from arguing with Rick regarding Zunino for now, since Zunino isn’t Ackley.

    Hey that balm is doing wonders, Mike!

  14. bat guano on August 7th, 2014 10:56 am

    Love the last sentence Jeff! Wheeeee!

  15. eponymous coward on August 7th, 2014 11:27 am

    Ackley: .247/.312/.361

    Player A: .268/.306/.362

    (Note that player A has home/road splits that FAVOR him, unlike Ackley, who gets penalized by his. Yay Safeco.)

    Except Ackley can play 2B with good defense, Player A, not so much.

    Is that kind of a bust for a high draft pick? Maybe. On the other hand, sometimes that’s how it goes (except for the M’s, it seems to be fairly common).

    On the other other hand, if Ackley had Seager’s stats and Seager had Ackley’s stats, nobody would be terribly shocked; that is essentially what our long-absent Dave Cameron predicted for Seager back in the day, that Seager was a utility guy. Turns out he had the wrong UNC player.

  16. Gormogon on August 7th, 2014 11:36 am

    heh heh…REO Speedwagon…

    After the nod to Ackley’s defensive improvement, you have me wondering if there is a correlation. Is he finally comfortable enough defensively that his confidence is high and also affecting his offensive mindset? Were the previous OPS streaks correlated to not being jerked around defensively? Ackley seems like a guy who easily gets mindf’ed.

  17. henryv on August 7th, 2014 12:32 pm

    Daisy Daisy… I’m sorry but I can’t do that Dave. .. err sorry Jeff.

  18. bluemoonking on August 7th, 2014 12:47 pm

    Ackley does seem like he easily get’s mindf’ed. But isn’t baseball 99 percent mental anyway?

    Most of these guys have never failed at any level they have played at. Now, wow you are playing with guys you watched in grade school and they have not survived by their looks alone.

    Something going right, anything going right can go a long way. His defense has improved and if he continues to make adjustments, it could go on for years.

    A streaky hitter is one who can’t make adjustments every day or two. It takes good (not great) players years to learn how to make adjustments and anyone to come through the Mariner farm system a couple of years longer…

  19. msfanmike on August 7th, 2014 12:59 pm

    Yogi’s mathematical analysis derived a different percentage than yours, bluemoonking:

    “Baseball is 80% mental, the other half is physical.”

  20. 11records on August 7th, 2014 1:02 pm

    One thing to note – he has made a change in his set up. He’s closer to the plate now. The pitch that he yanked for a HR off of Teheran was in tighter to him than the inside corner of the plate would have been relative to his set up in April and May. If that makes any sense… Another way to put it is, when he was further from the dish, a pitch at the same relative location to his body as that pitch he hit out would have been a ball in off the plate. So, rather than a HR he’d have taken it.

    Obviously, that positioning also gives him better coverage on the outer half. And, his magic “Barrel Finder” hands are quick enough that he can handle inside pitches even when in tight.

    The lack of walks is a little concerning, but it could partially be due to the fact that he’s simply seeing a ton of strikes, and putting a lot of balls in play.

    Check the BIP and Balls/Strikes % for his career vs since July 1

    As you can see, I’m choosing to believe.

  21. msfanmike on August 7th, 2014 1:03 pm

    If Ackley can simply wOBA at a .330 clip for the remainder of the season, his overall numbers will look pretty acceptable and he will land around a 2 WAR player.

    For now, that will be good enough.

    His hot streak has turned into more of a “consistent” streak within the confines of the natural ebbs and flows of hitting. His improvement (or at least this extended version clip of it) has been encouraging. I know I look forward to wathing him hit, now … as opposed to cringing every time.

    Whenever a player makes a slight mechanical adjustment – and shows improvement – it is more believable and usually more enduring than a “hot-streak.”

  22. Eastside Crank on August 7th, 2014 4:19 pm

    Maybe Ackley is recovering from the curse of the Ibanez. He turned into a poor batter last year while he tried to pull everything. He started this year trying to pull the ball and lately has changed his approach. Now later in the count he will hit to the opposite field on outside pitches. I am willing to believe that Ackley has turned the corner and now we will see if the pitchers can adjust to him.

  23. Kazinski on August 7th, 2014 5:02 pm

    It seems like Ackley’s ups and downs this season are primarily BABIP driven. That and he pretty much decided to quit taking walks. Here’s his BB% K% and BABIP by month for this season. His May and June look like a lot of bad luck and his July a lot of good luck. Ackley probably isn’t what he’s been in July, his season numbers are likely the most accurate picture of what he is now. Which isn’t great, but its better than what it has been. You’d think with his plate discipline he’d get more walks, but his contact rate is so good, he puts the ball in play before he can get 4 balls, so his OBP lives and dies with his BABIP:

    Mar/Apr 6.0 % 20.2 % .311
    May 8.5 % 16.0 % .235
    Jun 7.0 % 15.1 % .197
    Jul 3.3 % 16.7 % .435
    Aug 0.0 % 13.6 % .235

  24. Dennisss on August 7th, 2014 5:45 pm

    Kazinski, I understand your analysis, but the BABIP explanation always seems a little iffy to me. Ackley has been hitting the ball harder, so of course his BABIP has gone up. He can’t sustain a .435 clip, but if he makes better contact, his BABIP will go up. It looks like he has a .293 career mark, but is he stuck there? Cano’s is .325. Is it unreasonable to think Ackley may be in the process of improving his?

    I’m no expert, really just asking. The BABIP explanation always bugs me.

  25. Westside guy on August 7th, 2014 6:07 pm

    BABIP usually stabilizes by the time a player has 820 balls in play. Ackley has 414 hits, which means he’s probably at 1200-1300 BIP.

    That doesn’t mean what you suggest can’t happen, Dennisss – just that it’s unlikely. Saunders might be a better upside comp at this point, and his BABIP tends to be around .300-.310 I think. Not everyone can be Robinson Cano.

  26. LongDistance on August 8th, 2014 10:15 am

    Sometimes, the worst adjustment (in baseball as in life), is trying to inhabit or force conformity to what’s considered the ideal.

    Ackley’s moving closer to the plate isn’t an adjustment moving him closer to an ideal swat, but adjusting his contact to his swing. Basically, everything now gets treated more closely to an inside pitch. On inside pitchs, the first thing around before the ball even gets there, is the batter’s belly button. That’s been Ackley’s signature mistake on just about everything coming down the pipe.

    Hopefully, he won’t stay there, because that’s an adjustment even duffers can figure out, eventually.

    Hands in the air all the way…

    Go M’s!

  27. smb on August 13th, 2014 12:27 am

    Man, a 2-page post…awesome!

    Loving this team right now…it’s so nice when they make it easy to love them. I’ve felt like an abused spouse for way too long.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.