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Eric Wedge blames sabermetrics for Dustin Ackley’s struggles

May 28, 2013, 3:15 PM EDT

Eric Wedge, Paul Emmel AP

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.”

That’s particularly amusing in contrast to all the articles about how so many people within baseball don’t pay any attention to sabermetrics.

Wedge is 164-211 (.437) in three seasons managing the Mariners and also had a sub-.500 record in seven seasons managing the Indians, so apparently a lot of his players pay tons of attention to “people who haven’t played since they were nine years old.”

(Complicated handshake to David Cameron of FanGraphs, who alerted me to this silliness and is no doubt personally responsible for the majority of the Mariners’ struggles during Wedge’s tenure.)

  1. baseballicious - May 28, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    Sabermetrics blames Eric Wedge’s mustache for Dustin Ackley’s struggles. On May 28, 2013, at 3:15 PM, HardballTalk <comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote:

  2. chacochicken - May 28, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    Dustin sits alone at home at night calculating xFIP and staring at page after page of SIERRA numbers for opposing pitchers. He says he can stop whenever he wants. He says he just does it to blow off steam. Another victim lost to WAR.

    Thursday, I’ll be hosting the first of a series of weekly meetings designed to help victims cope with their disease. Come join Dustin and I at Sabremetics Anonymous.

    • unclemosesgreen - May 28, 2013 at 5:11 PM

      I tried to join up but when I clicked the link it took me to an archive of X-Files episodes.

      I need help Doc Chaco – I got HBPiD’s coming out of my BABIP.

      Just the other day a friend recommended I pick up Alexei Ramirez because he’s hitting .279. I said Really?! Really you ignorant FuckWad? It’s an empty .279 and who gives a flying fuck about batting average anymore? Ya gotta help me Doc.

      • chacochicken - May 28, 2013 at 5:37 PM

        Cases like yours are quite common. First, I would recommend several early to mid 90’s episodes of the The X-Files. You are going to need a steady dose of RBI for sure. For fantasy baseball purposes, and this is the hardest part, I’m going to need you to step back and add Darwin Barney, Nick Punto, and several “innings eater” pitchers such as Mark Buerhle. OPS is poison.

        For the most severe cases, if we must, we can send over Joe Morgan to sac bunt some sense into you. Remember you have a disease.

      • unclemosesgreen - May 28, 2013 at 5:41 PM

        Doc it’s worse than I thought – in the last year alone I’ve added and then dropped Buerhle AND Wandy Rodriguez – I’ve been subconsciously self-medicating.

      • chacochicken - May 28, 2013 at 5:44 PM

        When it seems to be at its worst I want you to repeat “Jack Morris pitched to the score. Jack Morris pitched to the score.” Do this as often as necessary.

      • unclemosesgreen - May 28, 2013 at 5:45 PM

        I can already feel it calming me – many thanks for my new mantra

  3. smoochytherhino - May 28, 2013 at 3:29 PM

    Balderdash. Experience playing baseball can make you a great teacher of the game, certainly a better coach than a sabermetrician whose last team was sponsored by a local car wash. But intelligent statistics will always be the most reliable performance indicator, and that is sabermetrics.

  4. raindog - May 28, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    I don’t use this insult lightly: Eric Wedge is a moron.

    • denny65 - May 29, 2013 at 12:35 AM

      You’ve just besmirched morons everywhere.

  5. Jeremy Fox - May 28, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    Ironically, one could use data from pitch F/X and other systems to see if Ackley’s approach has changed since his rookie year and if so, if it explains his struggles.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 28, 2013 at 3:53 PM

      You mean like:
      [2011 he split time between AAA and the majors]

      2011 (AAA) – 16.6 BB% – 11.5 K% – .185 ISO
      2011 (MLB) – 10.6 BB% – 21.0 K% – .144 ISO
      2012 (MLB) – 8.8 BB% – 18.6 K% – .102 ISO
      2013 (MLB) – 7.0 BB% – 18.1 K% – .045 ISO

      So he pretty much regressed on every peripheral, wonder why he’s being sent down…

      • Jeremy Fox - May 28, 2013 at 3:56 PM

        I was thinking a bit more granular, things like % of pitches in the zone he’s taken, mean # pitches seen per PA, etc. But yeah, that’s the idea. And yeah, if he’s regressed in pretty much every way, then the problem probably isn’t his approach, or not just his approach.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 28, 2013 at 4:49 PM

        The problem is we don’t have swing profiles from the minors, and the MLB ones aren’t that off. It’s not like he’s swinging at a ton of pitches outside the strike zone (~24% thru his three years), he makes contact with plenty of pitches in the strike zone (~90%). For reference, Cano, who never met a pitch he didnt like to swing it, is at 34.1% and 93.5% respectively.

  6. Joe - May 28, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    Sabermetrics led Ackley to try to do things that are of no use to the Mariners, such as getting on base.

  7. billybawl - May 28, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    Makes sense to me. In the days before sabermetrics, all even a dim bulb like Pete Rose had to do was calculate his updated batting average as he ran to first base. Now, guys like Ackley have to perform complicated maths and equations in the batters box to know if they should even get a hit. I hear the A’s are going to start scouting Cal Tech and MIT and draft guys with the largest cranial circumferences. Revenge of the nerds.

  8. sportsdrenched - May 28, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    Go ahead and get fired Eric so you can come home and coach your Alma Mater.

    • denny65 - May 29, 2013 at 12:36 AM

      Wedge is an Indiana native.

  9. blacksables - May 28, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    In other words:

    Ackley is letting a lot of pitches go by, waiting for the right one, and willing to take a walk.

    Problem is, he’s not getting one and finds himself in the hole, and ends up swinging at pitches he shouldn’t and not driving the ball.

    Or, in more other words, instead of worrying about walking so much, he needs to swing at good pitches when he sees them.

    That’s just my opinion, and not stated as fact. One of you smart guys with all the graphs go prove me wrong so you can all insult me for daring to have an opinon.

    Walks are great, but if you get a good pitch on the first couple of ones, you have to swing at it.

    • Kevin S. - May 28, 2013 at 3:59 PM

      If anybody calls you an idiot, it won’t be for having an opinion, it’ll be for assuming a sequence happened that fits your predispositions. You don’t know that Ackley is ignoring good pitches and swinging at bad ones late in the count, but it fits your narrative, so you go with it. Actually demonstrate that’s what’s happening, and people will listen to you.

      • paperlions - May 28, 2013 at 5:09 PM

        I won’t.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - May 28, 2013 at 4:12 PM

      http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=10099&position=2B#platediscipline

      That’s what you’re looking for. Interestingly, he has swung at a smaller percentage of pitches in the zone every year since he reached the majors, but is chasing pitches outside the zone at the same rate this season as his rookie year. His contact rate is up over his earlier seasons so far, so he’s not swinging and missing, especially when he chases pitches outside the zone.

      His biggest problem appears to be that he’s hitting everything on the ground now. His rookie year, he hit 40% ground balls. This year: 56%. His line drive and fly ball rates have both dropped, and that’s going to mean a lot fewer hits.

      Of course he’s also drawing fewer walks (10.6% of his PA in his rookie season, only 7% now) and striking out less often as well.

      If anything, a quick look makes it seem his problem is too much of an interest in putting the ball in play, rather than being selective and hitting good pitches. Without watching him play, though, I can’t say if that’s actually the case.

    • grumpyoleman - May 28, 2013 at 4:31 PM

      If he swung early in the count he might drive in a run and those don’t matter.

  10. 11thstreetmafia - May 28, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    His demotion can be blamed on mediocre play. That’s it.

    • pdowdy83 - May 28, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      You have a very forgiving definition of mediocre.

  11. largebill - May 28, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    Part of the stupidity of Wedge’s comments is most SABR analysis is not geared towards telling players what to do but rather in analyzing their performance afterwards and predicting future performance based on past results. The little bit of sabermetric type advice I’ve seen is in reducing needless outs. If you’re not good at stealing bases (70+% success) don’t try to steal bases. You only get three outs in an inning don’t waste ‘em.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 28, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      I think this nails it. SABR analysis looks at what happened, but it can’t account for WHY it happened. I think it is good for fantasy baseball players, and general manager types. I think players probably need to focus on their individual approach more and worry less about the actual results on such a granular level.

      As with many things, for the player involved it is about the process more than the product.

  12. APBA Guy - May 28, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    A few years ago (2008) Dusty Baker publicly called out Joey Votto for being too passive, for looking for the walk instead of taking an aggressive hack. Some jumped on Dusty as being anti-OBP, but Dusty had been watching Joey every day and saw selectivity morph into passivity. Two years later Joey Votto won the NL MVP with a .424 OBP and .600 slugging. BTW, these days Dusty stays on Joey to be more aggressive, but absolutely recognizes that he doesn’t always get much to hit.

    I point this out in contrast to Eric Wedge, who apparently hasn’t noticed that Ackley’s numbers do not represent some imbalance in OBP at the expense of slugging, but a continuous straight line decline from his rookie year in both categories.

    This makes Wedge’s comments all the more disturbing as they appear to indicate a fundamental disconnect with Ackley’s issues and Wedge’s explanation. Given Wedge’s lifetime record as a manager Seattle fans have reason to be concerned.

    • daveitsgood - May 28, 2013 at 4:25 PM

      Could it also have been that in 2008, Joey Votto had an ugly girlfriend, which denoted a lack of confidence and in 2010 had a hot girlfriend therefore more confidence?

      • unclemosesgreen - May 28, 2013 at 4:54 PM

        It’s funny you mentioned that, I cited that example just two nights ago while holding a tall-boy Guiness draft and debating the merit of scouting versus computer analysis via sabermetric statistics. I also mentioned that this is precisely the type of scouting report that can lead to asskicking and firing and such.

  13. frenchysplatediscipline - May 28, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    In other news: The Mariners have offered free agent pitcher Derek Lowe a contract…

  14. andreweac - May 28, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    As Mickey Hatcher once said “walks Re a false stat.”

  15. 13arod - May 28, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    adam dunn said the same thing weird

    • unclemosesgreen - May 28, 2013 at 4:55 PM

      Dunn is the truest of True Outcome guys, that’s for sure.

  16. sportsdrenched - May 28, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    To play Devil’s Advocate he could just be “sticking up for his player” and he’s trolling the media, fans, etc.

  17. fearthehoody - May 28, 2013 at 6:37 PM

    I blame his lack of talent!

  18. jdillydawg - May 28, 2013 at 6:43 PM

    I’m all about the demotion. I’m not a big fan of Wedge (he hasn’t done a whole lot in three years, and does have some talent on that team) but it does seem to be effective when he sends under-performing players down.

    Smoak has improved dramatically since being sent down and Ryan is suddenly hitting again after the being benched with the threat of being sent down.

    With Franklin at 2nd last night for Ackley and taking a walk on his first major league at bat, if that doesn’t light a fire under Ackley’s ass, then he’s right where he belongs in Tacoma.

    You can’t tell me Ryan isn’t looking in his rearview mirror at Triunfel now…That’s some good motivation.

  19. yahmule - May 28, 2013 at 7:18 PM

    For many years I believed the reason I didn’t make it to the Major Leagues was because I peaked athletically when I was 12 years old. Turns out it was because I was an early adherent of advanced metrics.

  20. strk3 - May 28, 2013 at 7:56 PM

    WAR is hell.

  21. denny65 - May 29, 2013 at 12:42 AM

    Let’s just say he “espoused a Wedgie.” On the plus side, Ackley’s demotion, as well as dead-weight Montero’s, shows that Jack Z., at least, is finally beginning to see the light. The Mariners for far too long have waited on the rookies to “work through it,” without realizing that both were on a downward slide.

    Ackley was 0-for-4 tonight playing for Tacoma, Montero 1-for-4, while up-and coming Zunino had a homer. Many are guessing that the first two will never wear a Mariners’ uniform again, while Zunino is the future.

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