A recent Hardball Talk article asked whether or not Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak should be demoted to AAA. I have written extensively about Smoak here before, so I will spend most of the time in this post talking about Ackley.
Smoak has been terrible, and I don’t think there is much hope for Smoak being good. My suggestion all along has been to use Mike Carp at 1st base, but that is not an option currently as he is on the DL. The AAA options of Scott Savastano (who just isn’t very good at baseball) and Luis Jimenez (who is a good hitter, but can’t play the field, a pure DH type) are not helpful, so I don’t even know who would take Smoak’s roster spot. The other options at 1st could be Dustin Ackley (who has been used some at 1st but may be worthy of a demotion according to the article), John Jaso (I like this option the best, he isn’t a real catcher anyway), or Jesus Montero (who hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball lately either).
A good roster would not have Justin Smoak getting constant at-bats. However, the Mariners do not have a good roster, so they might be stuck with him at 1st for a while.
On to Dustin Ackley. According to Fangraphs’ WAR, Ackley is the 5th best position players on the Mariners, behind Seager, Ichiro, Ryan, and Saunders. According to Baseball Reference’s WAR, Ackley is tied for the 2nd best position player on the team with Seager (BR has Ryan as the Mariners best position player, and it is not close). According to Fangraphs’ WAR, Ackley is the 16th best 2nd baseman in baseball this year, meaning he is league average. He is a league average 2nd baseman making about league minimum salary. That is a good deal. He has already been worth more defensively than last year according to UZR.It is only when you look at his slash line do you see any problems at .240/.319/.332. That isn’t good. Ackley isn’t having good results at the plate. What does it mean though?
His walk rate and strikeout rate is exactly the same as it was last year. His line drive rate is basically the same but he is hitting a bit more grounders. This year, he has a .876 Expected OPS on balls off bat. This compares to the .894 Expected OPS on balls off bat last year. His total expected OPS this year is .702. This is pretty similar to his Expected OPS last year of .716. Either one of those would make him the 12th best hitter out of qualified 2nd baseman. He has better speed scores than 4 of those 11 2nd baseman above him, and is a better fielder than 7 of them.
Is he being pitched any differently? It doesn’t look like it. He saw fastballs 59.8% of the time last year. This year he has seen fastballs 59.9% of the time. They have actually been slightly worse fastballs as well, as last year the average fastball he saw was 92.3 MPH. This year it is 91.8 MPH. Here are the pitches he took last year:
Here are the pitches he has taken this year (via Texasleaguers.com):
Do you see a difference? It appears that Ackley is taking less pitches on the inside part of the plate. There are two things that this may mean: 1. He is swinging at these pitches or 2. He is not seeing pitches on the inside part of the plate anymore. So here are the pitches he swings at:
The first thing you notice is that Ackley is a pretty disciplined hitter, which the walk rate also tells you. For fun, here is Yuni Betancourt’s, an impatient former Mariner, swing chart:
From Ackley’s chart, it does appear he is being pitched inside slightly less, although not drastically so. So he may just be swinging at inside pitches more. If he is doing this and not being successful, we would expect a lot more weak ground-outs to 1st and 2nd base. According to Baseball Reference, there has been a big disparity on balls he pulled last year versus balls he has pulled this year. Last year, he had a 1.109 OPS on balls he pulled. This year, it is just .727. With that said, he isn’t really pulling the ball more. 17.35% of his plate appearances this year have resulted in pulled balls, while last year it was 17.02 %. Perhaps his spray charts will give us a better idea:
It appears that there is already a greater cluster of ground-outs to 1st and 2nd this year than last year. He doesn’t seem to be getting the deep hits to right and right center like last year. However, there is one encouraging sign. He is showing more power the other way than he was last year.
Baseball is a game of adjustments. Ackley is making some adjustments as opponents are adjusting to him, but he needs to make more. That is what separates the good players from others. Whether Ackley becomes a really good player will depend not on his ability, but whether or not he makes these adjustments. With his fielding value, base running value, and the absolute lack of options in the organization (Triunfel stinks, Franklin and Romero are not ready, and Luis Rodriguez is certainly not an improvement), the idea of demoting Ackley is asinine.