The Good And Bad Of Dustin Ackley

baseball buddies

This post is not going to be very long, both because I'm rushed, and also because this post doesn't need to be very long to establish its point(s). It's not like a post after the Mariners lose a game to the Blue Jays 7-0 on a Saturday afternoon. That's a post that needs to be enormous!

At this writing, Dustin Ackley has a .651 OPS. It's early in the season, of course, which is why we're able to make all of those Albert Pujols jokes. Some months down the line, we probably won't be making nearly as many Albert Pujols jokes. But regardless, at this writing, Dustin Ackley has a .651 OPS, and Chone Figgins has a .655 OPS. If someone had told me before the year that Figgins would go into the last day of April with a higher OPS than Ackley, I probably would have been excited, because I had all the confidence in the world that Ackley would hit well. Here we are, and it's like everyone owns a damn monkey's paw.

Ackley has not been a disaster, because "disaster" is far too strong of a word. He's been okay, and his batted-ball profile suggests that he should be more okay. But I do think it's safe to say he's been a disappointment in 2012 - he's batted .250/.303/.348. Last year, Brendan Ryan batted .248/.313/.326. Dustin Ackley isn't supposed to hit like Brendan Ryan.

Here's a word of possible encouragement: Ackley's contact rate is way up. Last year, he hit the ball with about 84 percent of his swings. So far this year, he's hit the ball with about 91 percent of his swings. Ichiro has a career contact rate of 89 percent. Dustin Ackley has had no problem putting wood to pitched ball.

In fact, there are similarities between Ackley's beginning in 2012 and his amazing 2011 in Tacoma. His contact rate was about 90 percent in triple-A; right now, it's that aforementioned 91 percent. His groundball rate was about 42 percent in triple-A; right now, it's 43 percent. We want Dustin Ackley to look like he did in Tacoma last season, because that Dustin Ackley is special.

But there's one huge difference. As a 2011 Rainier, Ackley drew 53 walks and struck out 38 times. As polished prospects are concerned, Ackley looked about as polished as it gets. As a 2012 Mariner, Ackley has drawn six walks and struck out 15 times. That's not a nightmare, but that's not Dustin Ackley living up to his billing.

Right now, according to FanGraphs, there are 186 "qualified" hitters in baseball. Ackley's rate of swings at pitches out of the zone is 88th-highest, which isn't super high. It's basically right on the average. But Ackley's rate of swings at pitches inside the zone is 158th-highest, which is very low. Ackley has been relatively neutral on balls, but relatively passive on strikes, which is the reverse of what we would want.

Overall, for Ackley's entire Major League career, out of 230 hitters, his rate of swings at balls is 167th-highest, and his rate of swings at strikes is 216th-highest. That's another way of saying 15th-lowest. It's fine if Dustin Ackley is going to take pitches - we want Dustin Ackley to take pitches - but he's not been taking enough of the right pitches. He's been taking too many strikes, and/or swinging at too many balls.

Ackley has come to the plate 475 times in the Majors, which seems like a lot, but which isn't a lot relative to how many times we expect him to come to the plate in the Majors before he retires. It's still very early in Dustin Ackley's career, and there will be rough times and adjustments. What Ackley showed in the minor leagues is that he's capable of being highly, obnoxiously selective. We're waiting to see that in the bigs. I have faith that we'll see it to a greater degree than we have been, but I suppose Ackley might simply require more patience than we thought we would have to have. He can still be a productive hitter the way that he is, but he'll need to step it up if he wants to be the Dustin Ackley people all but assumed he would be.

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