Lloyd McClendon: Dustin Ackley and Mike Zunino Need a Year at the Bottom


Apr 19, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Seattle Mariners center fielder Dustin Ackley (13) looks on during batting practice before a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I know, Dustin. I’m sad too. 

The public opinion to this point on new Mariners’ manager Lloyd McClendon seems to be positive overall, with the obligatory outliers here and there. Most admire his fiery, no-BS personality, something Eric Wedge was purported to have, but never really showed. I even enjoy some of what he has done, particularly some early comments and tendencies.

Unfortunately, those feelings have slowly faded away for me, and for many other fans and writers that I have interacted with. We have been alienated by the questionable bunts, the contradictory comments, illogical use of the bullpen and most of all, the head-scratching lineups.

Those lineup problems started with the decision to hand Abraham Almonte the leadoff spot out of Spring Training, despite 1) Having an awful spring and 2) not having proven anything at the major league level, at any point. Sure, he is fast, and kind of fun at times, but that doesn’t make him a leadoff hitter.

Then there are the continual Logan Morrison right field starts — even if he did almost always remove him in the late innings — in which he also batted 5-6 far too often, despite being terrible. Again, small sample size, but there should be enough context to know he probably doesn’t belong above Kyle Seager or even Dustin Ackley. There seemed to be an “always compete” sentiment expressed, but not followed through on. But again, small sample size.

But what really has me questioning the man with the pencil (foreshadowing) is his recent comments on Dustin Ackley, Mike Zunino, and their spots in the lineup.

Oh, Lloyd.

I would totally understand if he said that he wanted to stick with the current lineup, continue to take the pressure off of Ackley and Zunino, and roll with the punches for a little while. Managers are headstrong, and don’t want to have to go back on their plans too early. Understandable.

However, there is more than one problem with what LMC actually said. For one, one would assume that Ackley and Zunino will get this treatment because they are young, still adjusting, all that. But if you scoot your way up to the top of the order, you find two equally inexperienced guys, sitting there without a worry in the world.

Of the four in question, Almonte has the least major league experience, with 82 plate appearances coming into the 2014 campaign, and 60 more so far this year, for a total of 142. The most inexperienced player on the roster is being given the most opportunities, and being thrown right into the fire.

Yet, the man with the most experience, Ackley (1517 PA), needs to be coddled in the 8 hole for some reason. And then Brad Miller, with just 335 plate appearances coming into the year is being slotted into the two hole, while 193 PA-er Zunino also needs to grow accustomed at the bottom of the order.

My problem here is not solely, or even mostly, with the idea of taking it slow with young, prized players. While I don’t totally agree, and think your best lineup should be run out there every day, I see the logic. But the logic here seems to jump around, and not apply to Almonte and Miller like it does to Ackley and Zunino.

I am also not saying that two weeks of baseball is enough to force a managers hand to make a drastic change, like swapping Ackley and Almonte. No matter how good Ackley and how bad Almonte have been, it is too small of a sample to think the original game plan has to be shredded.

However, we can look beyond the two week period to make our decisions. That’s allowed. And coming in to the year, Abraham Almonte had proven absolutely nothing, whereas Dustin Ackley, while a disappointment for most of his career, did have plenty going for him.

Number one is the draft pick/prospect pedigree, that while overrated, is better than absolutely nothing. It shows the potential is/was there. But on top of that is Ackley’s recent performance, which is much more significant than his name. He went on a tear in the second half of last year, posting a 126 wRC+ in 184 plate appearances. And while half a season doesn’t mean a guy is fixed, it was very encouraging, and really not that crazy when you consider the kind of player Ackley was supposed to become. He then went on to do more of the same in Spring (doesn’t really matter), and has continued his hot hitting to this point in the season.

It doesn’t take very much to see that Ackley is the better option to leadoff. He’s been the best hitter to this point in the year, and was great in his return from Triple-A last year, while Almonte is top 5 in the league in strikeouts, and has the 64th lowest OBP among qualified hitters.

Dustin Ackley doesn’t need to be coddled, and if he does, there is something wrong with him as a player. Abraham Almonte on the other hand, hasn’t shown anything that suggests he belongs anywhere near the top of the order.

This doesn’t have to be fixed right now. It is early enough that Dustin Pedroia has a .264 OBP. If Pedroia were the M’s leadoff hitter, I wouldn’t be calling for a change right now. But Almonte isn’t Dustin Pedroia by any stretch of the imagination, other than that they are both abnormally short for a professional athlete.

It doesn’t have to be fixed right now, but Lloyd absolutely MUST be open to making these types of changes. There comes a point when your hopes for certain players, or preconceived notions about their roles on the team need to take a backseat to performance, and what’s actually best for the team.

If Ackley continues to rake, and Almonte continues to do that thing from the movies where a guy steps on a rake and it hits him in the face, they need to be swapped in the order. If not for each other, than in some arrangement that has Almonte at the bottom and Ackley closer to the top.

All I am asking for is flexibility. For openness to change if the situation calls for it. Things

aren’t always going to

will never go exactly to plan, and a good manager needs to be both willing and able to make the necessary adjustments. Acting according to the statements Lloyd made are the opposite of flexible and open. Let’s just hope that when/if push comes to shove, he eats crow and does what has to be done.