Eric Wedge, feeling confident after a one game winning streak, was asked for comment about Dustin Ackley's struggles yesterday. Wedge decided this was a good time to blame his troubles on sabermetrics, and chose the following words to do so.
Wedge was talking about Ackley's demotion to Triple-A and his mental approach, and he intimated that Ackley might have been too concerned with pitch selectivity and high on-base percentage, leading to a one-liner that hit on one of baseball's most intriguing ongoing philosophical battles.
"It's the new generation. It's all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term, you know what I mean?" Wedge said. "People who haven't played since they were 9 years old think they have it figured out. It gets in these kids' heads."
I can't figure out exactly why Dustin Ackley became broken and why he's continuing to regress across the board. I can't understand it because I stopped playing baseball when I was 10 years old, and that invalidates my opinion. Eric Wedge has been playing and coaching baseball for his entire life, and he can't figure it out either. His best guess is to think a birdie got in Ackley's ear and told him to pursue some sabermetric destiny, all while walking less and less on his way to becoming a less productive hitter.
Ackley's approach at the plate has seen its own share of criticism from the sabermetric community; Dave pointed it out at USSM. The Mariners have seen Kyle Seager progress as a hitter by swinging less, and Michael Saunders enjoyed his breakout season of sorts in 2012 by swinging more. Perhaps Wedge prefers the Saunders road to marginal success, and perhaps Saunders shares his same distaste of all things saber. Maybe they steam about it in the dugout when Seager takes a walk, or works a hitter's count.
Eric Wedge is a manager for a baseball team at the highest possible level. It's his job to manage players. If he is going to peg sabermetrics as the reason that Dustin Ackley has struggled then he isn't doing his job. Shouldn't he be able to have a conversation with Ackley at some point to get him to change his approach if it really is that cut and dry? All this does is point out Wedge's incompetence at developing young hitters and his inability to prevent them from falling into bad habits.
Wedge hasn't managed a winning ballclub since 2007. I wouldn't sit here and tell you all of those teams are his fault, because he certainly hasn't had top notch talent in those years. One of the more commonly held beliefs of this line of advanced thinking is that the impact managers actually have on a season's win/loss record simply isn't that large. Besides, it would be a overly simple and petty remark to blame all of his team's failures on Wedge alone, and Wedge has that kind of remark cornered. Wedge is making a lot of money to do something pretty overrated, and he's admitting his own failure at the job while he throws this wild haymaker.
"People who haven't played since they were 9 years old think they have it figured out."
This is disappointing on a number of levels, but at the top, it's extremely arrogant. Eric Wedge has had a very fortunate career. He was talented enough to be a professional baseball player and even got to play in the major leagues in four different seasons. He then turned his catching career into a major league manager at only 35 years old, and has made millions of dollars teaching a game that he's spent his entire life with.
I quit organized baseball when I was 10 years old. I was a pitcher who had two pitches - a fastball that wasn't fast, and a sidearm curveball that didn't curve. One day, I took the mound in mop-up duty, and was greeted with a line drive off my ear hole. I ended up fine, but was so spooked I never took the mound again. Never very talented to begin with, my baseball career was over before it really began, and I took to the books.
I'd always been fascinated by the consumption of knowledge. I wanted to know more about everything I didn't fully understand, and I wanted to know why. I wanted to know why Bobby Ayala was constantly being used in key situations. I wanted to know why Greg Briley didn't play more. Was it the glasses? Or was it something else? If I couldn't play baseball, I was going to learn as much about it as I possibly could. I was going to know more about the Mariners than any of my friends, and I was going to be the guy who everyone came to for an explanation. I did it. I became the encyclopedia I wanted to be and didn't look back, and haven't stopped consuming new information since. I do it because I love it.
Two decades years later, Eric Wedge is throwing my decision to walk away from the 1994 Redmond Expos in my face. He's spitting it in the face of everyone who stopped playing baseball for one reason or another, be it fear, anxiety, injury, lack of money, lack of transportation, or lack of talent. To every person who had to give up the game they loved: Eric Wedge is looking down on you, telling you your opinion doesn't matter because you weren't fortunate enough to be him.
I don't know why he's doing it. Maybe he can't handle criticism of his decisions. Maybe he knows he's on thin ice; he could be out of a job again before long. Either way, his words are more of same that bloggers have heard a thousand times before. We don't watch the games. Didn't play the game long enough. Live in our mother's basement.
I gave up on baseball because I wasn't good enough, and because I wasn't brave enough to go on. I was 10. Eric Wedge was good enough, and at 45, still thinks he's better than those who weren't. Dustin Ackley was good enough too. Ackley is talented enough to turn his career around if he makes the required adjustments, just like every player has ever had to do before the statistical revolution. Either he'll turn it around or he won't, and when that happens, it won't be because of a bunch of bloggers who try to make sense of this beautiful, complicated game. It'll be just like baseball has always been, because some things, unlike analysis, will never change.