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Entries in Dustin Ackley (4)


Peter Gammons: Success after Safeco

The day after Dustin Ackley was shipped out to Tacoma, one American League East general manager called the Mariners’ Jack Zduriencik to see if Seattle would be willing to move the 25-year old once drafted one slot after Stephen Strasburg. “I still believe in the bat,” said the GM. “I don’t know how we’d use him. Maybe first, second, left, center…But I still believe he’s a .300 hitter who could hit 50 doubles.”

As it turned out, that wasn’t the only Ackley call Zduriencik fielded the first couple of days after the demotion. “I also believe in Dustin Ackley,” said Zduriencik. “He can still be a major part of our rebuilding.” Two weeks later, Tacoma manager John Stearns told his GM, “this guy is a .300 hitter who’s going to hit doubles and steal bases. He’s really good.”

After 24 games in Triple-A, Ackley was hitting .366. He was getting on base at a .467 clip. He was slugging .495. "I feel right again,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. I made some changes in my approach before spring training. Maybe that didn’t take. But I’ve been healthy (after the removal of bone spur in each ankle this past winter). It isn’t the move to second base; that was fine. I don’t know what happened, but I feel like myself again.”

Dustin Ackley (Seattle Mariners)

Safeco is still a pitcher's park

Zduriencik thinks that while they moved some of the fences in, Safeco is still a pitchers’ park, a death sentence for hitters. Adrian Beltre was spooked at Safeco. Jesus Montero has disappeared back to Tacoma. Ditto Justin Smoak. “I’m a great believer in getting hold of someone who has struggled in Seattle but we believe can hit,” says another GM. Which is what the Red Sox did when they took the shot on Mike Carp.

“I got to Fenway, started relaxing, didn’t try to pull the ball and my old stroke came back,” says Carp. “Safeco is death on driving the ball to left-center, which is where I need to stay. Fenway is the opposite.” Ask Fred Lynn, Mo Vaughn, David Ortiz, Wade Boggs

The fact remains that while the Mariners are second to last in the American League in runs scored at home, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 they were last. Dead last.

Now, in a city like Seattle, with some of the most intelligent analysis in the baseball journalism universe, one cannot pawn off the Mariners’ ill-fated history. Erik Bedard for Adam Jones and Chris Tillman? Jeff Clement? No need to go further. But they began to worry that Ackley was part of the bad legacy.

Ackley wasn’t just a good hitter at North Carolina, he was a great hitter, hence being the second pick in the 2009 draft after Stephen Strasburg and the signing bonus of more than $8M. He played 90 games for the Mariners in 2011, hit .273 with a .348/.421/.908 slash.

But it didn’t hold. In 2012, bothered by his ankles, he fell to .226/.294/.328/.622. Then he started 2013 a mess, .205/.266/.250. 

On to Tacoma. There they decided to let him play both left and center fields. “He took to both,” says Zduriencik. “He’s played both really well. His throwing has really come back."

In the meantime, Nick Franklin has played second base very well. Shortstop Brad Miller is starting to emerge in Tacoma. Catcher Mike Zunino is in the grooming process in the big leagues. And the off-season acquisitions of Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales have paid off, because they both can hit in Seattle.

“The most important thing is that the Seattle Mariners are returning to being a pitching team,” says Zduriencik. King Felix Hernandez is under contractual lock and key. Hisashi Iwakuma is really good, and his GM says, “believe me, he’s not going anywhere.” While Zduriencik admits he regrets trading Doug Fister, he projects Taijuan (Sky) Walker, Danny Hultzen and Erasmo Ramirez in the Seattle rotation by this time next season.

If that pitching is as good as they believe and Ackley, Franklin, Zunino and others join Kyle Seager in developing in Safeco, the Mariners can get good again, in a hurry. Parity? NFL equality? Fine, if you live in Seattle, you deserve a reason to believe.


Dustin Ackley's High-Pitch Slugging

Along with Ichiro, Seattle second baseman Dustin Ackley starred in the first game that counts in 2012. Ackley ripped a fourth-inning solo homer off Brandon McCarthy and lined a go-ahead single off Andrew Carignan in the 11th as the Mariners topped the A's 3-1 at the Tokyo Dome.

That both hits from Ackley came on pitches high in the zone -- the go-ahead single was nearly at eye level -- shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Ackley performed well overall as a rookie, batting .273/.348/.417 with a 117 OPS+, but he was especially deadly against high stuff. Look at his in-play slugging percentage by pitch location in 2011:

Ackley's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011

The number two pick in the '09 drafted slugged .547 on pitches thrown up in the zone, 161 points above the MLB average last season. That high-pitch slugging placed him in the top 15 among all hitters:

Highest slugging percentage on high pitches, 2011

Pablo Sandoval .779
Mike Napoli .687
Troy Tulowitzki .675
David Ortiz .642
Josh Willingham .636
Dustin Pedroia .613
Adam Jones .592
Ben Zobrist .587
Carlos Gonzalez .586
Hunter Pence .585
J. J. Hardy .580
Ian Kinsler .577
Adrian Beltre .575
Carlos Beltran .548
Dustin Ackley .547


An Ichiro rebound is important for Seattle, but continued growth from Ackley (projected for a .261/.348/.410 line by ZiPS) and offseason pickup Jesus Montero (.257/.322/.438) will determine whether the M's finish last in runs scored in the AL for the fourth straight year in 2012. So far, so good for Ackley.


Ackley Hitting Backwards

Some hurlers pitch backwards; they throw off-speed pitches in fastball counts and vice versa.  Rookie Dustin Ackely of the Seattle Mariners hits backwards.

Most pitchers use a change up as an out pitch.  They train a batter's pattern recognition software to learn a fastball motion.  Once the hitter sees the fastball enough, the pitcher unleashes the change up.  The best throw the pitch with the same motion and arm speed, but drop the speed of the ball with their grip.  The batter swings early and misses, or hits the ball weakly.  In the majors this season, batters own a .339 weighted OBA (wOBA) on the fastball, .290 on the changeup.

So far, Ackely hits the change much better:


Fastball 0.277 0.358 0.349 0.323 0.189 0.000
Change Up 0.409 0.458 0.909 0.556 0.000 0.136


You can really see the reversal in the strikeout and home run numbers.  Fast pitches help batters hit home runs.  Dustin has yet to take a fast ball deep.  Change ups are supposed to fool batters into striking out, but Ackely doesn't get fooled by the pitch.

These numbers, of course, are based on small sample sizes.  If they hold up, however, it won't be good news for Dustin.  If pitchers discover they can just pump fastballs by him, they'll be happy to blow him away with heat.