In a bizarro world, Dustin Ackley probably would have been an All Star this season. Take his splits and turn them on their head and he'd be rolling into June sporting this .311/.343/.537 slash line with seven home runs, 12 doubles, five steals, 26 runs scored, and 31 RBI -- good for a .383 wOBA and 149 wRC+. In the first half of this year a player had a .386 wOBA and 145 wRC+ and his name was Carlos Gomez. Of course, in real life, Dustin Ackley rolled into June totally lost and kicked down I-5 to try and find himself. Honestly, it looked pretty bleak for his future in Seattle.
It's difficult to tell who exactly we should credit, but he apparently found himself. Whether it be in Tacoma or Seattle, with Cory Snyder or Howard Johnson, or maybe his Yoga instructor, Dustin Ackley has been on fire since the break. He's been quoted as calling it a tweak or a mechanical adjustment or an effort to go the other way with the ball, which, super, I don't really doubt that. But on further review, the Dustin Ackley back in April doesn't look a whole lot like the one in August and call me among the hopeful that this revamped swing might just mean this carries over into the future.
But let's just take a step back and appreciate just how stark a difference the first half and second half have been for Dustin Ackley.
There's the obvious slash line staggering improvement. But of note is that strikeout rate and the walk rate. A 12% strikeout rate is what Dustin Ackley demonstrated across his short time in the minor leagues, and starts to satisfy the profile of the hitter they thought they were getting when they drafted him. But that 4.6% walk rate isn't. "Patient" and "polished" were frequent superlatives describing Ackley out of the draft and he certainly drew walks in the minor leagues. But that's not the player Ackley is becoming, and it tends to cloud his value going forward.
The other two things that really jump out are the ISO and BABIP. This is, by far, the most power we've seen from Ackley and he's been punishing the ball like this for more than two months and over 200 plate appearances. His career slugging percentage is .368. In the minor leagues, it was .443. In the second half, it has been .537. So is this wrapped up in luck, as the BABIP improvement might suggest?
Based on his batted ball data, my handy xBABIP calculator suggests he was getting a little unlucky in the first half, but more importantly, his second half xBABIP says .316 would be perfectly reasonable, which is close enough to .324 to keep me happy. And while we're at it -- um, that IFFB% rate. I don't even know what to say. 12% is terrible. 2% is among the lowest in baseball in the second half. Yay?
But back to this swing. I guess I'll agree that it's not an overhaul -- not like that putrid timing mechanism he was employing in the Spring of 2013. But take a gander at the following, which is his swing back in early April:
Try to ignore that rarity of a player named Hart standing on second base. Check how far away that front foot is from the plate and in general how open his stance is.
This is his home run against Stephen Strasburg on the 30th of August:
Maybe he closes up more against right handed pitchers, but I couldn't find much evidence of that. Maybe it's the camera angle. But that front foot is certainly further towards the plate and his torso is pretty much square at this point. If the .gif loops are giving you a headache, how about a couple screen grabs. Before:
The still images make it kind of easier to notice that he's holding his hands higher and closer to his body. The fact that he's closed his stance up significantly certainly lends itself towards reaching those outside pitches better. I'm not a mechanics analyst nor a batting coach and thank God because I hit about .200 in high school. All I'm trying to demonstrate is that this isn't a "tweak". That there is a bonafide, conscious modification, and I'm crossing my fingers that the self-found version of Dustin Ackley is here to say.
In a broader sense, back in June it was looking like the Mariners would need to go left-fielder shopping once again in the off-season. They can now conceivably use that cash elsewhere in 2015. This isn't to say he's going to slash .300/.340/.540 the rest of his career. Because he probably won't. But considering where Ackley was in June, to think that he might be a .280/.320/.450 kind of hitter going forward, well, that's pretty encouraging for a team scrambling to find a solution in left field since Phil Bradley.