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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Gleeman: Eric Wedge blames sabermetrics for Dustin Ackley’s struggles

Ack–Ack…INCOMING!

Dustin Ackley was a college star at North Carolina and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft, one spot after Stephen Strasburg. He moved quickly through the Mariners’ farm system, had a solid rookie season in 2011 at age 23 … and has hit .221 with a .600 OPS in 198 games since then.

Yesterday the Mariners demoted him to Triple-A and in discussing the move afterward manager Eric Wedge more or less blamed sabermetrics for Ackley’s struggles. Seriously, via Greg Johns of MLB.com:

  Wedge was talking about Ackley’s demotion to Triple-A and his mental approach, and he intimated that Ackley might have been too concerned with pitch selectivity and high on-base percentage, leading to a one-liner that hit on one of baseball’s most intriguing ongoing philosophical battles.

  “It’s the new generation. It’s all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term, you know what I mean?” Wedge said. “People who haven’t played since they were 9 years old think they have it figured out. It gets in these kids’ heads.”

Repoz Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:03 PM | 36 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: mariners, sabermetrics

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   1. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:11 PM (#4453934)
So, Ackley wouldn't have notice he was hitting .205, with 1 HR and 4 doubles, if he hadn't seen his WAR?
   2. boteman Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:17 PM (#4453941)
I LOLed at the headline for this. Seriously??
   3. lonestarball Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:23 PM (#4453949)
Wedge says he thinks Ackley's problems at the plate are mental, not physical, and at one point says that part of the problem stems from his being too passive as a result of his trying to work counts and draw walks, which he labels as "sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term."

His point wasn't really about sabermetrics, but about his belief that Ackley changed his approach at the plate and it ended up messing him up mentally.
   4. TJ Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:25 PM (#4453952)
If Seattle manager Eric Wedge can't have more of an impact on one of his players than a bunch of faceless sabermetricians who don't make out the lineup card, doesn't that beg the question of why Eric Wedge is indeed your manager?

Gee, I guess it never occured to Wedge to say, "Listen Dustin, I don't care what your on base percentage is, just get up there and hit." Where's Dusty Baker when we need him?
   5. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:29 PM (#4453958)
Statistically Ackley looks like a guy who is thinking too much. Park effects and competition levels are obviously part of the problem here but this is a guy who had roughly a 1:1 K:BB ratio in the minors and in MLB it's 2:1. According to FanGraphs he is last among the 171 qualifiers in terms of the percentage of pitches in the strike zone he swings at (52%).

I think blaming sabermetrics is silly but Ackley certainly does have the profile a guy who is unwilling to trust himself at the plate. Hitting .226 last year and .205 this year may be as much cause as effect of course.
   6. asinwreck Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:29 PM (#4453959)
Who gets fired first, Zduriencik or Wedge?
   7. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:30 PM (#4453960)
Eric Wedge: "In case Dusty's NHL comment had you thinking he was dumber than me, here's definitive proof that he's really not."
   8. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:30 PM (#4453961)
Who gets fired first, Zduriencik or Wedge?


Manager's usually the first to go, but I sincerely hope that Z's tenure is up soon. The man is Dayton Moore with a hard-to-spell name.
   9. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:33 PM (#4453964)
I completely understand what Wedge is trying to say (something like #3), but the implication is that he thinks some of the decision makers in the organization are clueless amateur dabblers who should go back to the accounting department where they belong. The fact that it wouldn't surprise me if he's right doesn't make it an any less impolitic statement.
   10. Joe OBrien Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:50 PM (#4453984)
Quoting from Ted Williams's wiki, quoting from his biography by Leigh Montville:

While in the training camp of the Millers camp for the springtime, Williams met Rogers Hornsby, who had hit over .400 three times, including a .424 average in 1924,[29] who was a coach for the Millers for the spring.[29] Hornsby told Williams useful advice, including to "get a good pitch to hit".


That's also Williams's first rule of hitting in The Science of Hitting.

But Wedge is probably right. What the hell do those guys know about hitting?
   11. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: May 28, 2013 at 04:59 PM (#4453992)
The problem is that some guys read "get a good pitch to hit" as "see a lot of pitches." The best pitch to hit can sometimes be the first pitch of an at bat. It's part of the reason I think most MLB players should be swinging a lot more than they do on 3-0 pitches.
   12. Mike Emeigh Posted: May 28, 2013 at 05:01 PM (#4453995)
You can get a good pitch to hit on the first pitch. I think that was Wedge's point; "working the count" is not the same thing as "getting a good pitch to hit".

-- MWE

EDIT: What Jose said in #11.
   13. Spivey Posted: May 28, 2013 at 05:20 PM (#4454013)
Wow, I really don't agree that people should be swinging a lot more than they do on 3-0 pitches. I do agree that folks should not feel they need to take the first pitch. Taking pitches should be more of a byproduct of a good approach than a good approach in and of itself.
   14. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: May 28, 2013 at 05:20 PM (#4454016)
You can certainly be too passive at the plate. Taking pitches and working deeper counts doesn't automatically generate better results. In some cases it may even be counterproductive.
   15. madvillain Posted: May 28, 2013 at 05:37 PM (#4454031)
In his head (with the little matter he has up there) I think Wedge believes he was protecting Ackley by deflecting some of the blame off him. Of course, I haven no doubt that Wedge thinks there is truth in what he said and that sabermetrics is a pox upon baseball.

Wedge will be ####-canned soon enough if the Mariners are 20 games under .500 in July, and from his post-game interviews (I live in Seattle and catch quite a few of them on the drive home) it seems he's sorta resigned to the inevitable at this point. Managers rarely tip the scales either way IMO, and Wedge is a decent enough manager by that standard, but he's hardly part of the solution either, and in a clean sweep of the front office (which should be done if this year's team is that bad) he'll go as well.

Wedge and Jack Z thought this team was fairly close to contending, hence the Morse deal and the Felix extension, turns out they were wrong, again. They gots to go.
   16. madvillain Posted: May 28, 2013 at 05:42 PM (#4454037)
You can certainly be too passive at the plate. Taking pitches and working deeper counts doesn't automatically generate better results. In some cases it may even be counterproductive.


Indeed, and I'd be skeptical of any sort of non-power hitting prospect that generates great isoD percentages in the minor leagues, such as Ackley. His ISO (talking the power aspect of his slash line) was aided by the PCL and it seems that MLB pitchers have figured out that if they throw enough strikes, they'll knock the bat out of his hands.
   17. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 28, 2013 at 05:56 PM (#4454046)
According to FanGraphs he is last among the 171 qualifiers in terms of the percentage of pitches in the strike zone he swings at (52%).

Mike Trout is at 53%


Ackley swings at 23.5% of pitches outside the strike zone, which is good, but 22 players swing at fewer balls
   18. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: May 28, 2013 at 06:46 PM (#4454079)
Manager's usually the first to go, but I sincerely hope that Z's tenure is up soon. The man is Dayton Moore with a hard-to-spell name.


That seems unkind to Dayton Moore, honestly.
   19. The District Attorney Posted: May 28, 2013 at 06:54 PM (#4454084)
it seems that MLB pitchers have figured out that if they throw enough strikes, they'll knock the bat out of his hands.
I don't know the first thing about scouting, but this seems unlikely for a (non-controversial) second overall pick in the draft, doesn't it? Not too many Jason Tyner types get taken there.

It should go without saying that a "sabermetric" front office that tells guys "make a habit of taking hittable pitches" doesn't actually understand sabermetrics too well, but who knows; I don't know what they tell him. #9 might be the most relevant point that this isn't something you say about your bosses if you respect them and/or care about getting fired.
   20. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 28, 2013 at 06:58 PM (#4454086)
I don't know the first thing about scouting, but this seems unlikely for a (non-controversial) second overall pick in the draft, doesn't it? Not too many Jason Tyner types get taken there.

Well, the 107 career ISO ain't exactly scaring too many pitchers.
   21. Rob_Wood Posted: May 28, 2013 at 07:06 PM (#4454091)

I would fire him for these comments, seriously.
   22. jdennis Posted: May 28, 2013 at 09:19 PM (#4454185)
lots of little leaguers have this problem. not trying to compare ackley to a little leaguer, just mentioning that a lot of them take a bunch of fastballs down the middle. many of them wait for a knuckler or whatever to hit.
   23. Moeball Posted: May 28, 2013 at 10:28 PM (#4454223)
I'd be skeptical of any sort of non-power hitting prospect that generates great isoD percentages in the minor leagues, such as Ackley. His ISO (talking the power aspect of his slash line) was aided by the PCL and it seems that MLB pitchers have figured out that if they throw enough strikes, they'll knock the bat out of his hands.


Shouldn't the MLEs have somehow noted this and adjusted for the PCL factor? I thought baseball people were aware for the last several years that just because a hitter has good numbers in the PCL doesn't necessarily mean it will translate at the same level to the major leagues/the flip side to that being that a pitcher with a high ERA in the PCL might actually do better in the majors.

The problem is that some guys read "get a good pitch to hit" as "see a lot of pitches." The best pitch to hit can sometimes be the first pitch of an at bat. It's part of the reason I think most MLB players should be swinging a lot more than they do on 3-0 pitches.


You can get a good pitch to hit on the first pitch. I think that was Wedge's point; "working the count" is not the same thing as "getting a good pitch to hit".

I've always been fascinated by the psychological aspects of hitting; what the batter is thinking and how to read what the pitcher is thinking - and, for that matter, the umpires, too. Living in San Diego I've been very fortunate over the years to have heard several conversations on the topic from the likes of Tony Gwynn and Ted Williams. As we know, Ted had an "always take the first pitch" kind of approach (I really wish we had the pitch count data on his career to see how this actually played out). This approach does lead to a lot of 0-1 counts when the pitchers figure out they can throw the first pitch right down the middle and the batter still isn't going to swing. On the other hand, because Ted took so many pitches and because of his reputation for having great eyesight, he admitted after his playing days were over that he had often "worked" the umps by taking pitches that he didn't like - even if they were clearly strikes - because some umps would think "Hey, if Williams didn't swing at it the pitch must have been a ball". This helps a batter get from a lot of 0-1 counts to a situation where he's 3-1 and sitting on a fastball over the heart of the plate. But not everyone is Ted Williams and can get away with that.

So, just for the fun of it, I thought of another batter who had a reputation for being pretty patient and taking a lot of walks. He would also try to work a lot of good counts that would put him in a position to get that fastball in the location he was looking for so he could crush it. I'm talking about Mark McGwire here. I thought I'd look up some of his numbers because I remember hearing him talk about some of this stuff BITD. He was of the opinion that you should usually take the first pitch, but not necessarily always. Once in a while he'd go for it, especially if a pitcher was stupid enough to throw Mac a thigh-high fastball (wow, did he ever just destroy those).

Here's how Mac did in his career on first pitch results (per B-Ref): .357 BA, .808 SLG.

That's pretty darned good. 124 of his 583 career HRs came on the first pitch, which is pretty impressive since he wasn't a hacker who usually swung at the first pitch.

But here's what really intrigued me - what if he swings at the first pitch and doesn't put the ball in play? Now he's looking at an 0-1 count (also probably happened a lot when he was taking a lot of first pitches and some pitchers would just groove it assuming he wouldn't swing):

0-1 count results: .371 BA, .779 SLG.

Shouldn't a batter's numbers be a lot worse than that when he's behind in the count? That really looks unusual. Of course, if Mac failed to put the ball in play on the 0-1 pitch, the "after 0-1" data indicates his numbers went way down, which one would expect.

It seems that although he didn't often go for the first pitch or the next one if he started out 0-1, he sure picked his spots well and did a lot of damage when he did swing. Keep in mind, these are career numbers, which take the good seasons and the bad into account.

I know there are a lot of hitters who do fairly well when making contact on the first pitch; is it also common that they do well when connecting 0-1? Or was Mac just a freak?


   24. PreservedFish Posted: May 28, 2013 at 10:51 PM (#4454238)
I know there are a lot of hitters who do fairly well when making contact on the first pitch; is it also common that they do well when connecting 0-1? Or was Mac just a freak?


Everyone hits pretty well when it's impossible to strike out.
   25. The District Attorney Posted: May 29, 2013 at 01:15 AM (#4454333)
From Bill James' mailbag:
Hey Bill! The Mariners have demoted Dustin Ackley, and now Eric Wedge says that it's the fault of sabermetrics. He says the sabermetric folks ("who haven't played the game since they were 4 years old") got in his head and made him think too much about on-base percentage. How much responsibility do you think that you personally bear for Ackley's struggles?

Most of it, certainly. I am also responsible, by the way, for the Dukakis campaign. Don't ask.
   26. Loren F. Posted: May 29, 2013 at 01:47 AM (#4454347)
I'm not an Indians fan so forgive me if I am mistaken, but didn't Wedge and Shapiro work closely together in Cleveland to bring a Moneyball-type approach to the franchise? So this statement confuses me. Unless, as suggested above, Wedge saw it as a way of deflecting some blame from Ackley.
   27. Sleepy supports unauthorized rambling Posted: May 29, 2013 at 02:47 AM (#4454359)
Everyone hits pretty well when it's impossible to strike out.


IIRC, mid-April 2006 Al Hrabosky made an inane comment about Albert Pujols, after some umpire- can't remember who, exactly, though it's a short list of possibles, "paid him the ultimate respect of not calling a third strike on him at home". I cleaarly remember it was VS the pirates. At the time, I was pissed off, and in retrospect, I've only gotten more pissed off. Call the game as it is. If they throw a strike, call it a strike, and vice versa.

Watching Matt Carpenter (despite the .388 OBP at 2B for the Cardinals this year) take at least 5 OOZ called "third strikes" this year (so far, per pitch/fx) reinforces that. We have to fix the umpiring in MLB. McCarp is good enough to succeed despite the umpiring incompetence, but a lot of these "moneyball" players are being screwed by umpires who believe that their job is to "make the players swing", or some such. Not just hitters, but pitchers as well.
   28. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: May 29, 2013 at 08:43 AM (#4454397)
Everyone hits pretty well when it's impossible to strike out.

Yup, this one. I mean the 0-1 count is McGwire's worst non-2 strike count. The gap is exaggerated by the fact that McGwire made such a large percentage of his outs via the K.

The more telling count, as to how much going 0-1 costs him is this one.

After 0-1: .212/.311/.468/.779
Compared to a career: .263/.394/.588/.982

Which goes to what was already stated above: If you get a good first pitch, swing the bat. Taking a guaranteed strike is not going to help you.
   29. Ron J2 Posted: May 29, 2013 at 09:39 AM (#4454425)
#23 As I've pointed out before McGwire was actually more likely to swing at the first pitch than Ichiro! -- and Ichiro! isn't exactly known for his patience in working the count.

Dwight Evans is another guy whose by count splits would be interesting to see (only available for the tail end of his career). I know that he walked a lot and took a lot of pitches, but he was prepared to pull the trigger on every pitch -- he was looking in a specific zone when he had the count (first pitch included) in his favor. Actually it took quite some time to get a working approach at the plate. I mean he's a viable (if fringe) HOF candidate who didn't meet what would be his eventual career average OPS+ until he was 29.

   30. Ron J2 Posted: May 29, 2013 at 09:46 AM (#4454431)
Oh and #23 all forms of MLE are adjusted not just for quality of competition, but also for league offensive context and park specific adjustments are made both for the minor league park and the major league park.

The original form of MLE used only team runs scored and allowed. More complete information wasn't available in 1985. But all of the work that guys like Clay Davenport and Szym have done haven't markedly improved on James' approach. And Chris Dial's simplistic approach of just adjusting for quality of competition works pretty well at least 70% of the time. (It'll drastically overrate the guys coming out of extreme hitter's parks of course)
   31. if nature called, ladodger34 would listen Posted: May 29, 2013 at 10:21 AM (#4454457)
I was never and will never claim to be on a level with Dustin Ackley, but when I was about 15 I was just going through a bad stretch at the plate. Eventually, my dad threw me some BP and watched a few of my ABs to figure out what the heck was wrong. After one of my games (a youth league game after the high school season), he noticed that I just tended to freeze when I got too deep in the count and the bat tended to stay on my shoulder. Working the count made me passive (at least during this stretch) and after that, I tried to swing at the first hittable pitch in every AB.

As for Mr. Wedge's comment, I think it was a way of saying that Ackley's problems are between the ears but it isn't his fault. Sabermetrics is an easy scapegoat and bunches of fans would probably say "Hey, give the kid a break.. it's these dang number crunchers who are doing him in". Of course, his front office is supposedly more stat inclined than most and it could have been a shot at them too.
   32. Ok, Griffey's Dunn (Nothing Iffey About Griffey) Posted: May 29, 2013 at 10:56 AM (#4454483)
Joey Votto (career splits):

1st pitch: .434/.441/.738
on 0-1: .368/.376/.618
career: .319/.420/.553
after 0-1: .280/.350/.462

and, just for fun:

on 3-0: .636/.964/1.455 He's 7-11 with 126 walks. :-)
   33. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 30, 2013 at 02:24 PM (#4455957)
Shouldn't the MLEs have somehow noted this and adjusted for the PCL factor? I thought baseball people were aware for the last several years that just because a hitter has good numbers in the PCL doesn't necessarily mean it will translate at the same level to the major leagues/the flip side to that being that a pitcher with a high ERA in the PCL might actually do better in the majors.

Oh and #23 all forms of MLE are adjusted not just for quality of competition, but also for league offensive context and park specific adjustments are made both for the minor league park and the major league park.


Ackley has hit .294/.390/.473 in Tacoma
league is/was: 282/.355/.442
Tacoma's Park Adjustment Multiplier(per Dan) is .94 (pitcher's park)

That gives him a AAA OPS+ of 124, the major league equivalent is roughly 99
His MLB OPS+ is 87

Smoak has hit .252/.381/.407 in the PCL (league: .278/.349/.433- lower than Ackley's context because he played a bit in 2009 which was a low offense year by PCL standards), his park adjustment is about .97 (he played half his time in Oklahoma, a more neutral park than Tacoma)
For Smoak we have a AAA OPS+ of 106, the major league equivalent is about 85, his actual MLB OPS+ is 92

Montero has hit .287/.349/.491 in AAA (league .262/.329/.405), park (Scranton) is about .93
That gave Montero a AAA OPS+ of 136, equivalent to about 109 in the majors (he has a 97 in the majors)

So basically Ackley and Montero have underperformed and Smoak has done as well as should have been expected (better)

The big problem for both Ackley and Montero is that neither seems to be progressing- Ackley's best year was 2011 (both Majors and Minors), Montero's was 2010.
   34. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 30, 2013 at 02:36 PM (#4455969)
Regarding minor league numbers- as Bill James said back in 1985/86- sometimes there's a lot of air in them that you have to remove:

Case in point:
.354/.430/.554 Colin Cowgill- 2011
The PCL as a whole hit .286/.359/.448
Reno had a park multiplier of 113 (major hitters park)

AAA OPS+ of 127 (equivalent to 102 in the MLB) (IOW .354/.430/.554 in Reno in 2011 is not as good as .287/.349/.491 in Scranton)

of course 2011 was far and away Cowgill's best year, on the whole he's hit .309/.381/.480 in Reno, Sacramento and Las Vegas, his overall AAA OPS+ is about 110-112, equivalent to 90 or so MLB (I'm ragging on Cowgill because someone in my NL only Roto league was elated at getting him for $1, believing that he was going to start for the Mets- my reaction was so what- sure he'll start on opening day, but he's not good enough to keep the job- even on the Mets- the dude's response was, have you seen what he ht in the minors? The dude can RAKE!


   35. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 30, 2013 at 04:06 PM (#4456092)
Ackley has hit .294/.390/.473 in Tacoma
league is/was: 282/.355/.442
Tacoma's Park Adjustment Multiplier(per Dan) is .94 (pitcher's park)


JSLF, FYI Fangraphs has wRC+ for minor leagues seasons. You don't have to do the math yourself.
   36. Ron J2 Posted: May 30, 2013 at 04:52 PM (#4456127)
#35 True that, but on the other hand it's useful understanding the contexts. Montero's an example of a case where Chris Dial's simple methods said "overrated" and it's helpful to understand just how extreme the offensive context that he played in was.

EDIT: It's also a by hand MLE (like JSLF did) that identified the precise problem with the infamous Weiters projection.

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