Apr 22, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley (13) fields a ground ball during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ackley on a Hot Streak. But has he really Improved?

Kyle Seager‘s long admired hitting streak came to an end on Tuesday, finishing at 16 games. And it was extremely impressive, even as far as streaks go, as he hit .390/.455/.661 during that time. But, unfortunately it is over, and it is time to move on.

And what better place to move to than another Mariner infielder who currently has a hitting streak of his own. That player is Dustin Ackley, whose streak currently sits at 10 games. The streak began in Texas on May 20th, and Ackley will look to extend it to 11 games tonight. During his streak, Ackley has hit an astounding .417. And on the surface, that looks amazing. Heck, its blows Seager’s .390 mark out of the water. The problem is, that Seager also produced a ton of power, while Ackley is not doing the same. His triple-slash line as a whole is .417/.421/.472, which, while still very good, does not really coincide with a .417 average. The reason for this is that during the streak, Ackley has only walked once, and has mustered just two extra base hits, both doubles. So while he is making great contact and seemingly hitting the ball at least moderately hard, he isn’t walking or getting anything in the gaps or over the fence.

Something else that is just as unnerving is that his BABIP during that stretch is a wildly unsustainable .455. That, combined with the fact that he has had no power or ability to draw walks tells us that what is happening is a little flukey, even for a hitting streak.

But lets expand this a little more, because he started hitting better before the streak started. Going back to the 13th, Dustin has a hit in 14 of 16 games, compiling a triple slash over that time of .328/.328/.379. Again, not as impressive as the average suggests. So while it may seem like he has had some massive turn around, it turns out he has merely been a somewhat respectable player instead.

Now lets expand even further, and look at the year as a whole. Ackley is currently hitting.253/.284/.286, with a .255 wOBA and 62 wRC+. More of the same in terms of the average vs. the rest. It is up to .253, almost 30 points higher than it was last year. But on the flip side, his OBP is down 10 points, and his slugging is down 42. Remember when I mentioned that he had only walked once and had 2 extra base hits during his streak. Well, you can (only) add 2 walks and 1 extra base hit to that for his season totals.

That’s right. Ackley only has 3 walks and extra base hits (all doubles) on the year. And it turns out that his patience and power were pretty much just as good when everyone was ready to send him down as they are during the 10 game streak. He currently holds a 3.1% walk rate for the year. Last year, it was 8.8%. Fortunately, his walk rate probably isn’t quite stable yet, so some positive regression is likely. But what probably have stabilized are his plate discipline numbers. And what is interesting is that there have not been massive changes from last year to now. His Swing% is up 1.6%, and his O-Swing is up 1.1%. So while there is some change, it is not all that dramatic, and probably doesn’t account for a 5.7% drop in walks.

So what can you take from this jumbled mess of flaky numbers? Well the whole purpose of this post at the beginning was to suggest that Dustin Ackley really hasn’t been all that much better during his streak than he was before. That is not true in some ways, but it is in others. He still has little to no power, and is not walking nearly enough. It is all up to how you interpret the numbers. He has been better for sure. But to what degree?

Another thing is that his walk rate may drop a little from what it was last year, but likely not the 5% it currently has. He is not swinging that much more than he used to, and his O-Swing is still about 5% lower than league average. Plus his K rate is at 13.4%, down 5.3% from last year, so it isn’t as though he is swinging at a bunch of crap and striking out a ton. All of that screams regression because it really just does not add up. A guy who swings and strikes out around 5% less than the average player who only walks 3% of the time? I don’t think so.  There is a chance that he is just putting everything they throw at him in play as his Contact% is at 88.3% (~7% above average), and he isn’t allowing himself to walk or strikeout at all. But I am not really sold on that either, so I expect regression.

The streak is encouraging. Ackley is making lots of contact, and looks a lot better than he did at the start of the year. But the lack of power and decrease in walks to present a problem of their own. He has the contact part down it seems (but remember the .455 BABIP). Now let’s see if he can figure out how to draw a walk like he used to, and maybe put a few in the seats — or at least in the gap — here and there. If he can do that, we may see something a lot closer to what we first envisioned for Ackley.

 

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