Ackley's performance is extra impressive when you consider all the acid he dropped
Dustin Ackley began his rookie campaign on a tear, and he ended it in a slump. Now that we've reached the end of the season, though, we can pull ourselves away from the splits and reflect on his performance overall. Overall, Ackley batted 376 times, and posted a .348 OBP with a 117 OPS+. Very fine numbers from a first-year player at the most advanced level of competition in the world.
But this post isn't about Dustin Ackley's offense, nor is it about Dustin Ackley's baserunning, Dustin Ackley's contract, Dustin Ackley's personality, or Dustin Ackley's personal belongings. What does that leave? Lots of stuff, but for purposes of this entry, it leaves Dustin Ackley's defense.
I didn't set out looking for information about Dustin Ackley's defense. That information found me, while I was reading a post about something else. The other day Acta Sports posted its Archived Stat of the Week, in which it was declared that Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus made for 2011's top defensive 2B/SS pair, according to Defensive Runs Saved. The metric pegged Kinsler and Andrus at a combined +29 runs. Tied in second place? Ackley and Brendan Ryan, who had a combined +28. A combined +28 in less playing time, I might add.
Ryan, obviously, contributed the bulk of that, because Brendan Ryan is a fantastic defensive shortstop, but Ackley chimed in at +10 on his own. I don't know why it took me until now to see that considering this information is available on FanGraphs, but I can't erase the past. Ackley got +10 by Defensive Runs Saved, and a more modest but still good +2 by UZR.
Obviously, we have the usual caveats - these are defensive measurements based on less than even one full season. Generally, we do not put a ton of stock in these things, and I advise against putting a ton of stock in Ackley's results. But I do trust numbers for infielders a lot more than I trust numbers for outfielders, given that there are fewer zones and much more muted park effects, and Ackley's results agree with our collective eyes. Ackley looked good - not great, but good - and had we not been familiar with his backstory, we probably wouldn't have thought that people had shredded his second base defense in the recent past.
As a prospect, Dustin Ackley's defense drew criticism. Often, to the point where some assumed he'd have to move to the outfield. His defense may have been legitimately bad then, I don't know, but once Ackley started playing in the Majors, he passed the test. Visually, he looked a little less graceful and natural than, say, Mark Ellis or old Orlando Hudson, but he got the job done, and I've no complaints or reservations. I like Dustin Ackley where he is.
As if this weren't already neat enough, our standard aging curves for player defense are a lot like our standard aging curves for fastball velocity - we expect them to peak very early. However, because Ackley's still relatively new to his current position, it's not out of the question that he could still make some small improvements as he gains familiarity with more reps. It isn't necessarily all downhill from here. It isn't even necessarily flat.
Hooray, Dustin Ackley. Thank you for being a good baseball player on the.