Dustin Ackley post preceded by an obligatory ode to BaseballSavant.com. Skip if desired.
Oh BaseballSavant.com, you are a very good website. I like to use your filters to sift through mountains of pitch f/x data in my spare time. You are a good friend. I want to take you to Chuck e Cheese and let you have all of my ski-ball tickets to buy that light saber that you always wanted. Or a remote control car if I got on a roll and did better than I usually do and got more tickets. That would be even more fun than a light saber. Especially since you wouldn’t need to find somebody else with a light saber to play with. You could just mess around with the car by yourself. I would even go into the ballpit and weed out all of the hypodermic needles in there. Unless you want me to leave them in there. Then I would test them all for STDs and leave in the clean ones. Unless you don’t want me to do that either. I would do all of this for you. I am selfless.
Anyway, let us use some of this data to do things.
Dustin Ackley was hitting rather well to start the season. His doing so briefly earned him a spot batting 2nd in the lineup, a position he usurped from former optimism-paragon turned overnight-disappointment Brad Miller. There has always been one thing that Ackley does better than nearly anybody. That thing is making contact. Ackley made a lot of contact last year. He also spent much of last year being terrible. Putting the ball in play does not ensure success in the Major Leagues. There are people out there. People with gloves.
I want to take a quick look at one of Ackley’s big issues last year. I want to look at Ackley’s tendencies towards grounding out to the right side of the infield. Let us gaze upon a spray chart, and wonder.
This looks pretty stupid at first glance. I have filtered out most of the less common events just to clear away some of the dross but this is still a messy picture. What I want to point out on the above spray chart, however, is the disparity in results between when Ackley pulls the ball and when Ackley takes the ball the other way.
Ackley hits the ball on the ground fairly often. This, as Mariners fans, is something that we are all too familiar with. Last year, when Ackley was playing poorly he was beating the ball into the dirt directly towards second base. This is reflected by the maroon cluster-fuck one can see in the above chart.
Let’s look at another spray chart real quick.
Similar maroon garbage. Except in this case, said garbage is located on the left side of the infield, rather than the right. This is a spray chart from Kenji Johjima in 2008. 2 years after he had weaved the mirage of competency which had since dissipated under the crushing weight of countless groundouts to the pull side.
Johjima and Ackley are not the same player. They are not even particularly similar players. But they went through similar stretches of mediocrity brought on by a common tendency: attempting to pull balls on the outside of the plate only to beat the ball mercilessly into the dirt.
In Johjima’s case, we can see that most of the success he had was to the pull side. While he made several outs over there, and was generally awful overall, all of his dingers went straight out to left field and most of his hits in general did so as well. His spray chart indicates that when he went the other way, the result was typically meek, shallow fly balls to the right fielder. Johjima’s success was predicated around an unsustainable tendency (in his case) towards pulling everything. The league made the necessary adjustments and Johjima was not able to adjust in turn and achieve sustained success after his rookie season.
Ackley’s chart deviates from Johjima’s here, and therein lies the hope that a change in approach can result in marked improvement.
Dustin Ackley’s chart indicates that the majority of his offensive success came when hitting the ball the other way. The only exception to this rule is dingers which, in Ackley’s case, were strictly to the pull side (as was the case with Johjima). Ackley only hit 4 of them. So who the fuck cares.
It is clear that Ackley’s success will be built around his 91% contact rate on balls in the zone, and his ability to generate solid contact to left-center field for singles and hopefully some gap doubles as well. Ackley has never been a guy who profiles for much power, but that’s OK. We learned last year that a team can hit a lot of dingers and still find themselves mired near last place in terms of runs scored. If Ackley maintains the approach he adopted towards the end of last year, he should reach base at a solid clip and hit his fair share of doubles in the process. In this way, Ackley likely profiles as the team’s best option at leadoff- although he is a natural fit in the 2-hole as well.
That being said, having suffered through a recent slump of absolute shittiness, maybe it is best we just put Ackley out to pasture and talk about more important things like why racism is bad and why spiders may be worse.