The End of the Ackley Era

marc w · July 30, 2015 at 2:40 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The Mariners announced their line-up today in their series-opener against the Twins. Dustin Ackley was slated to bat 6th and start in LF. Some time after that went public, Jack Curry of the YES Network in New York broke the news that Ackley had been traded to the Yankees instead. In exchange, the M’s get two players who’ve had cups of coffee in the Bronx, but spent much of 2015 in AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre: OF Ramon Flores and RP Jose Ramirez.

Of the two, Ramirez has been the most highly regarded. He’s a righty reliever with very good pure stuff, headlined by a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and touches 97-98. In the low minors, he was a fairly successful starter, but nagging injuries and the allure of closer-level stuff led to a role change. Since then (between the 2012 and 2013 seasons), Ramirez’s control has become a serious problem. Never a command pitcher, Ramirez’s walk rate has been above 10% since his first taste of AAA, back in 2015. To make matters worse, he’s yielding a very high BABIP. Ultimately, he became the perfect change of scenery candidate – whatever happened in 2013, the Yankees weren’t able to find it and correct it. He’d dropped out of the Yankees’ top 10 prospect lists at BA and MLB this year after peaking at #2 before the 2013 season.

Flores is a corner OF without much power, and a guy who’s been orbiting around the edge of the Yankees’ top 20 prospects for several years. Still just 23, Flores has shown advanced plate judgment for a while, and that’s obviously something the M’s have lacked. In his age-20 season, he put up a .370 OBP and 126 wRC+ in the pitching-friendly Florida State League, and putting him safely inside the Yankees top 20. Since then, though, the hoped-for power simply hasn’t materialized, and he’s seen as a tweener or 4th OF by many. He got 12 games this season with the Yankees, and while he maintained very good contact skills, he never walked as pitchers were content to throw him strikes and watch him make weak contact. The plate discipline is great, and the contact+walks template is pleasingly distinct from the “right handed power” fixation the M’s had developed. But a corner OF without pop or a whole lot of usable speed is tough to make work. Clearly, the Yanks were able to do it with Brett Gardner, a player whose own MiLB stats were worse than Flores’, but the M’s haven’t fared a whole lot better with players like this than they have with bat-first sluggers.

All in all, it’s not exactly a prospect haul, but what could the M’s expect? Ackley, for all his promise, had played his way out of a job, and commonly sat on the bench while Seth Smith started in LF. Always a streaky player, another of his confounding bad streaks sucked up a few critical months, and tanked his already-low value. As with Flores, Ackley had become a corner OF without power – a skillset that works only with the kind of elite plate discipline and ability to barrel up a variety of pitches that Ackley was *supposed* to have. He showed it briefly in the minors, and then showed it in his first call-up in 2011, but it was gone for good by 2012. Coming through the minors, Ackley displayed a very keen eye for the strike zone, racking up walks even while his slugging percentage (and average) were frustratingly low. After bottoming out in 2013, Ackley appears to have traded a bit of patience for increased power. His ISO is up substantially since that nadir, and a .150 or so ISO would be fantastic if Ackley could consistently hit .300. Coming out of UNC, Ackley’s pure bat-to-ball ability made a .300 average sound like his big league floor. Oops.

We’ll never know if the multiple position changes had anything to do with his stagnation. In college, he’d played CF, but after TJ surgery spent his junior year at 1B. After drafting him, the M’s had him play the Arizona Fall League as a CF, but almost immediately changed their minds and moved him to 2B by the time he hit the affiliated minors. After playing the position in the majors reasonably effectively, the M’s again moved him back to CF during a stint in AAA Tacoma, and then called him up to play center in 2013. Later that year, they decided he might benefit from a move back down the defensive spectrum, and thus they settled on LF. There’s certainly no clear link between his position and his batting line. You can argue he’s been walking less and hitting the ball harder (albeit less often) since moving to LF, but the move off of the IF (or CF) hasn’t made him a better hitter overall.

The flashes we’ve seen of the “old” (hoped-for?) Ackley fade by the time anyone’s analyzed what he was doing. There was the bizarre batting stance of 2013, an experiment he ended after a disastrous start. He focused more on his mental approach in 2014, but the swing was always in flux. That’s not a criticism – pitchers are seen as intelligent and crafty if they’re always tinkering, and hitters are constantly told to make adjustments. Well, he’s done plenty of that. He’ll now have the freedom to make a critical adjustment he was never able to make here: the ability to work without sky-high expectations. Without being labeled a bust, or compared to others from his draft class (OMG MIKE TROUT WENT 25th), and without being saddled with the burden of saving a franchise that had been mired in mediocrity for years. Enjoy being a complementary player instead some kind of emblem or avatar of a team that couldn’t develop elite talent. Maybe the 15th swing-tweak will be The One. Best of luck to you, Dustin.


21 Responses to “The End of the Ackley Era”

  1. mrakbaseball on July 30th, 2015 2:48 pm

    The guy had so much promise 4 years ago, it sucks.

  2. bluemoonking on July 30th, 2015 2:58 pm

    Another underdeveloped player by the M’s. Good luck Dustin, lose the beard…

  3. Grayfox3d on July 30th, 2015 3:07 pm

    I’m really going to hate Jack and his team of “experts” if Ackley goes to New York and becomes the hitter we thought he might be, or even a decent hitter…. what another slap in the face to go along side the Castillo debacle.

  4. ck on July 30th, 2015 3:10 pm

    Ackley, another Jack Z disappointment for M’s fans. On the bright side, I think Ackley will join the list of former M’s to appear in an All-Star game soon.

  5. MacGumaraid on July 30th, 2015 3:21 pm

    It’s going to be so depressing if Ack catches fire in NY and Cano continues to slide….

  6. jak924 on July 30th, 2015 3:49 pm

    Another brutal symbol of the Jack era. The sh*t is really starting to pile up. Mr. Z, please do everyone a favor and resign NOW.

  7. Flaco on July 30th, 2015 3:50 pm

    “Ackley will join the list of former M’s to appear in a *Play-Off* game soon.”


  8. rgreentee3 on July 30th, 2015 4:08 pm

    Wow, I missed that one, Ackley was my choice to have a breakout year this season as my flight of fancy had the M’s going to the playoffs. For now the M’s will be destined to the back pages of the sports section.

  9. murphy_dog on July 30th, 2015 4:28 pm

    Four years ago, sitting first row in Oakland, I watched Ackley do the only impressive thing in his career.

    As he came off the field with a ball, he studied the crowd for a good 30 seconds, and then finally tossed the ball. Twenty rows up to an outstanding 9/10 in M’s shirt, jersey, hat, and some really short shorts.

    He then smiled when I yelled, “Nice job, rook!”

  10. Grayfox3d on July 30th, 2015 4:37 pm

    Looks like Astros are picking up some guy named Carlos Gomez and Mike Feirs.. wonder if they are any good….. *sarcasm off*

  11. bluemoonking on July 30th, 2015 4:47 pm

    Remember this?
    Maybe It’s Time For Dustin Ackley To Play Some Outfield
    Dave · June 10, 2013 at 7:40 am · Filed Under Mariners

    Morse just got DFA’d by the Dodgers. Figuring that Jack is out to prove a point, who will go to the Dodgers in that trade…

  12. Grayfox3d on July 30th, 2015 4:50 pm

    Rodney for Morse…. hahah I crack my self up, but knowing Jack, he will give them Mark Lowe for Morse….

  13. bluemoonking on July 30th, 2015 4:53 pm

    Why would you give up on “Robin Hood”? You know that he has been tipping his pitches (sic). Not like it’s a secret…

  14. ivan on July 30th, 2015 5:54 pm

    How is this trade supposed to help the Mariners?

  15. bluemoonking on July 30th, 2015 5:56 pm

    It’s not. It’s Jack Z and the Mariners..

  16. matthew on July 30th, 2015 8:54 pm

    I find it funny that everyone is upset with Zduriencik. Every other team including the Angels would have drafted Ackley if they were at 2. These guys are human beings, not robots. Would another GM have drafted Seager where the Ms did? Z has locked up Seager and the King. He overpaid for Cano, but there was no way Cano would have come to Seattle if he hadn’t overpaid. Z wanted Cruz last year – but was overruled by ownership. That would have put them in the playoffs at the very least. Sometimes I wonder if people think before they start railing about the job someone is trying to do under current ownership.

  17. Dennisss on July 30th, 2015 9:11 pm

    My enduring impression of Ackley will always be that he seemed like a guy who didn’t mind taking a strike on occasion, even when he already had two.

    That said, it seems like this is a case of letting a guy get to his very lowest value ever and then selling. Not too impressive.

  18. rjfrik on July 31st, 2015 12:10 am

    I have no problem drafting Ackley at #2, he was the consensus pick. The biggest blunder in the JZ era and arguably the most disastrous move the M’s have ever made, was Jack deciding to sign a relief pitcher (Josh Fields) that he didn’t draft, to a contract in the 25th hour. If he decides to not sign Fields (a guy picked by the former GM in desperation) JZ has the 18th pick in that draft and drafts a young OF named Mike Trout. The M’s were all over Trout and actually thought about drafting him #2, if only for a second and were hoping he would fall to them at #27, but he went #25. Combine that with the M’s winning 3 of 4 in the final series in 2008 against a far superior team in the final week, on the road, to take them out of the #1 pick by a game and the 2009 draft was a huge failure compounded by a lot of bad luck and bad decision making. Go 2-2 in that last series, on the road against a playoff team and the M’s draft Strasburg, don’t see the need to sign another pitcher at 18, so they don’t sign Fields, they take Trout at 18, who they were all over and then take Franklin at 27. Could have been one of the greatest drafts in MLB history.

  19. Dayve on July 31st, 2015 4:20 am

    They would have mishandled Trout like they do most every other player. He’d have become another disappointment that would get traded for nothing and come back to haunt us.

  20. MrZDevotee on July 31st, 2015 4:14 pm

    I’m pretty amazed by the line of folks always ready to pummel Z over moves the entire league would have made…


    If these guys ended up being what every scout on earth thought they would be, we’d be a dominant baseball team.

    Yes, Z’s been a failure… And yes he should probably be replaced, but based on other people’s failure to live up to their expectations, NOT anything Z did wrong himself. The list of moves he’s made at the “high end” don’t merit quite as much venom as he gets from fans, but of course Armchair Hindsight is 20/20…

    1) Ackley– Any and every team on earth had him penciled in as “can’t miss” prospect… It would have been stupid NOT to draft him, the best position player and pure hitter in the draft, given the M’s lack of offense and quality OF’s. (He was an OF in the draft)

    2) Justin Smoak– A legitimate #1 prospect from an organization in the midst of back to back World Series appearances. A power hitting left handed 1B (on paper). Exactly what EVERY team in baseball is looking for… And we got him via a trade we pulled off for Cliff Lee that nobody saw coming when it happened.

    3) Jesus Montero– the top hitting prospect in all of baseball for awhile. And a catcher. Two of the most desperate needs for the M’s for nearly a decade. And we traded a guy to get him who has been basically broken since the day the trade happened (just went on the DL and got scratched from his start last night).

    I get it. He swung and missed on all of those moves (so far- Montero is still on life support)… But any other GM would have gladly taken them when those moves happened.

    Other head scratchers:
    Forever berated for trading Jaso, but never lauded for getting him in the first place, for practically nothing (and trading a team rapist/pariah in the process).

    Kyle Seager. Our version of “Mike Trout”… Sure, not nearly as good, but another guy NOBODY had pegged as an All-Star, Gold Glove middle of lineup bat. Now a building block of our team.

    The best bullpen in baseball last season– with NOBODY of repute in the midst (except Fernando “Walenda” Rodney)…

    Chris Young… We’re not a contending team last season without him. Period. And nobody wanted him but Z. A brilliant move that gets largely ignored.

    Mike Montgomery. Nobody saw his success coming either, especially while living without Paxton and Iwakuma this year. Z has been good at targeting young pitchers who might survive without a lot of experience, and not embarrass themselves…

    Point being, Z has worked his butt off, but largely been unrewarded by the player’s results. His process has been good, at worst– getting “A” prospects from other teams while giving up little (in contrast to Bavasi), and also targeting good players in the draft… But the results suck.

    Yes, the results suck. Just like the year Dave loved the team the M’s put together, built on defense and pitching, and we sucked.

    Funny, but the whole point of this website has been to focus on the process, and not get hung up on results.

    I guess times change.

  21. eponymous coward on July 31st, 2015 8:45 pm

    Funny, but the whole point of this website has been to focus on the process, and not get hung up on results.

    The point of having good process is to yield good results, not merely process for process’s sake. If your process isn’t yielding good results over the long term… you need to question the process.

    Zduriencik’s gotten seven years (longer than Bavasi got). The team is not particularly any closer to consistently winning than it was in 2009, given that they’ve done in 2015 what they did in 2008 and 2010- coughed up all their progress towards a winning team and then some.

    The team is built to win right now in terms of payroll; it defies logic to think that as a group Felix/Cano/Cruz are going to be better in a couple years than they are now. The fact that it’s not ready to win right now and a lot of Zduriencik’s talent has turned up lame… well, are you going to blame Bavasi for that?

    Bottom line is he’s had seven years, plenty of high draft picks, all the chances in the world, and this is what we have. Exactly how long a leash does he get? How many more below-.500 teams do you need to come to a conclusion that he’s not all that good compared to other GMs? Can you find me a GM who spent the first seven years of his career WAY under .500, with ZERO playoff appearances and a grand total of one kinda-sorta-pennant race, and gone on to do anything of note?

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