May 7, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley (13) prepares his bat in the on-deck circle against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the second inning of an interleague game at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
After today’s game against Texas, Ackley is now batting .205. In contrast, a hot week-plus from Brendan Ryan has raised his average to .211. It is not encouraging to think Ackley is a comparable hitter to Brendan Ryan, BRENDAN RYAN, who wasn’t hitting his weight for the first month and a half of the season.
Since April 30 versus the Orioles- when Ackley’s average topped out at .253- he has gone 9 for 65, a very Ryan-like .138 batting average. In that span he has only 2 xBH, a double in the rubber match against the Yankees and his lone homer of the year– a grand slam in Toronto.
Ackley looks lost at the plate. His mellow, pensive stance has him late on pitches both in and out of the zone. It seems like every time he comes to bat there are only three possible outcomes: 1) he falls behind in the count, fouls off a pitch or two, then watches strike three on the outside corner before walking back to the dugout like the pitcher just gave him a mean nickname. 2) Gets ahead in the count, then tries to turn around on a fastball in the zone, popping it up to the middle infield or the shallow outfield. 3) and this is my personal favorite… drive the ball sloppily into the dirt, grounding out to second base.
Defensively Ackley has looked good, with no errors on the year to go with 70 putouts and 115 assists. But his defense isn’t enough to keep him in Seattle.
It’s time for him to be sent down to AAA-Tacoma, where he can take the time to reassess his swing and start making solid contact with the ball again. When he was drafted out of North Carolina he was a career .400 hitter, but so far in the majors that patient, bat-for-average approach has been a pipe dream.
Here is a quick run-through of the numbers: .205/.266/.250 triple-slash line. 5 xBH. 8 RBI. 31 SO (18.1%) and 12 BB (7.1%). .258 BABIP. And a wRC+ of 53, which is almost half the league average. His ground ball rate is at 55%, nearly 10% higher than last year (45.5%) when he batted only .226. And according to Fangraphs, he is sporting a -.1 WAR so far this season.
What Ackley needs more than anything right now is confidence and a change of scenery. Send him down to Tacoma. Give him the chance to work on his swing and his timing without the added pressure of production at the Major League level.
Being bounced around the lineup and being inconsistent behind the plate isn’t helping his development as a member of the young core of this young Mariners team. He needs to find his stride again, and that cannot happen in the Show, especially the way the Mariners are struggling right now.
I think what’s hardest is to taper our expectations of Ackley and his future with the Mariners. Yes he has shown at times and for short stretches that he can hit and be successful at the Major League level. But as of right now in his development, his ceiling may be as an average second baseman. And there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong, though, is setting him up for failure by putting him in the lineup everyday without the confidence and the mechanics to help this team win.
All this begs the question: if Ackley gets sent down who gets called up? The best answer to that question right now would be Nick Franklin. He is posting a .324/.440/.472 triple-slash in Tacoma. He has walked more than he has struck out. He has been getting a considerable number of games at second base. Though we can’t expect Franklin to hit the same way in the Majors, we can expect him to bring a confidence and energy that Ackley sorely lacks right now.
Some say it’s too soon to bring Franklin up, but his numbers are arguably more impressive than the entirety of the Mariners middle infield so far this season.
I realize this would mean we would be playing day in and day out with two rookies up the middle, but that’s the way it needs to be. Franklin will not only give the Mariners a better shot at winning ballgames, he will also give Ackley a chance to try to find himself again in AAA.
Yes, Ackley is a fan favorite despite his productivity (or lack thereof). But he NEEDS to find his stroke again, and that can’t happen while he is still playing in Seattle. Give him some time in AAA, and maybe something magical will happen.
Maybe he will tidy up his swing and come back hitting like Smoak did last year after being sent down and then called back up for September.
This move isn’t as much about winning now as it is about winning in the future. Some major league exposure for Franklin and some minor league tweaking for Ackley could go a long way.
And right now, the Mariners could use a serious shakeup.
Heck, Montero has hit more triples since he has been in Tacoma than Ackley has hit all year.
Didn’t somebody tell me Montero has developed some wheels?