Projecting Dustin Ackley With Math

I have long pondered making this post. I personally think there could be value in it, but my lack of experience with FanPosts, and the intelligence of the readers here have made me question doing so time and again. I read the "So You Want To Write a FanPost" FanPost, and felt it met most, or all of the criteria, so here we go.

We all know the Dustin Ackley story. Second overall pick, all the upside in the world, supposed to .350 wOBA in his sleep (the actual phrase was "hit .300 in his sleep," but batting average...). That obviously isn't how things have gone, as Ackley is currently sitting with a career .296 wOBA, and is being shifted out to LF for another shot at turning it around.

His hot second half in 2013 (.357 wOBA in 53 games), followed by a strong spring have seemingly lifted the spirits of myself and fellow Ackley fans, who, to varying degrees, believe that Ackley may have figured something out. Now, Spring Training stats mean nothing, as we all know. But hitting the ball hard does matter, and that is something we have seen from Ackley consistently over the last month or so. And if we take his word for it, he feels much better about where he is, having cleared his head of whatever mental block was ailing him before.

With that said, being a fairly analytical minded fan, I wanted to find some more solid, statistical evidence that may suggest Ackley has underperformed, and/or is bound to pick up where he left off last season. So despite the fact that we all know sabermetrics ruined Dustin Ackley, I am going to try to use them to project what Dustin Ackley "should" do this season.

In order to do so, I ran some regressions to come up with a formula for predicting wOBA using plate discipline and/or batted ball-type stats. After some trial and error, I came up with something I feel pretty good about. Using qualified players from 2011-2013, I decided on O-Swing%, Z-Contact% and ISO, in order to cover contact, plate discipline, and power.

The results are as follows:

Linear Regression
Regression Statistics
R 0.81376
R Square 0.66221
Adjusted R Square 0.65764
S 0.01719
Total number of observations 226

wOBA = 0.0629 - 0.0918 * O-Swing% + 0.6032 * ISO + 0.2268 * Z-Contact%

The test gave me a solid 0.81 R an .66 r^2 to work with. While I am not an expert in this field, from the research I have done, it should allow for reasonably accurate projections, using the regression question of wOBA = 0.0629 - 0.0918 * O-Swing% + 0.6032 * ISO + .2268 * Z-Contact%.

If we enter Dustin Ackley's career numbers into that equation, we get the following:

0.0629 - 0.0918 * 0.245 + 0.6032 * .109 + .2269 * .904 = .311 wOBA

This particular projection system tells us that Ackley has been underperforming in another way besides not meeting the expectations bestowed upon him. His actual career .296 wOBA is 15 points below what his underlying numbers suggest he "earned."

Now, that .311 wOBA still isn't near what many of us had expected or hoped from someone with Ackley's upside and pedigree, but it is still an improvement over the black hole he has been over much of the last two years. It puts him in the same category as guys like Jose Altuve and Michael Bourn over the last two seasons, rather than Zack Cozart and Yunel Escobar.

If we break it down even further, we can see that the power (ISO) is what is holding him back the most. His Z-Contact% is 33rd over the last two seasons among qualified players, just behind Robinson Cano, and his O-Swing% is 20th lowest in the league, just below Nick Swisher. However, his ISO over that same time is 122nd, between Alexei Ramirez and Ichiro. Yikes.

I am no scout, but he looks to be hitting the ball much harder since the middle of last season, which will move that ISO up a notch, and really help get his offensive game where it needs to be.

Just for reference, if we enter his career O-Swing and Z-Contact percentages into the equation, along with his 2nd half ISO of .130 from last year, his expected wOBA jumps up all the way to .324. Is it reasonable to expect him to maintain an ISO that high? Probably not. But it isn't unreasonable to expect improvement in that regard, along with continuing progress in his plate coverage and discipline, along with other aspects not factored into the above experiment.

All that jumbled mess aside, there is reason to believe Dustin Ackley will be better than he has been in the past. He looked great for half of last season, has hit the ball hard this spring, and some select math processes performed by a random dude on the internet also point in that direction.

Should we expect a .311 wOBA? .324? His career .296? We can't know for sure. The massive Ackley fanboy in me thinks .330+. The realist sees somewhere around .320. If he can play average defense and run the bases well, I'd settle for something in between.

I want nothing more than for Dustin Ackley to be good at baseball, and I can guarantee the degree of hyperbole in that statement is much lower than you might think.

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