It’s Time To Pull The Plug On The Dustin Ackley Experiment

Within the last decade plus, the Seattle Mariners upper management has displayed a unique sense of loyalty to young players with big potential upside that never seem to develop as desired. We recently saw this with Justin Smoak. Smoak was the slugging switch-hitter who’s big fat bat was good enough to waste another half season of peak Cliff Lee. We all know Smoak never panned out. He was supposed to be a crushing, middle-of-the-order savior for a Mariners team that was starving for offensive production. That move is still curious to me – despite the fact it was crystal clear Lee wasn’t going to stay in Seattle – since management already had 10 years of data proving Safeco Field to be a severe pitcher’s park.

Was Smoak pushed too hard too early? Possibly. It’s certain that a slugging prospect moved from a hitter’s haven in Arlington to Safeco’s vast, power-killing outfield would struggle. It was clear Smoak wasn’t gonna hit 30 bombs in Seattle. However, he never adjusted and took to developing gap power to become a doubles machine and a big run producer. After numerous trips back down to Triple-A Tacoma – and hindering other players fighting towards the big league club – the Mariners finally cut ties with Smoak last offseason. I’m sure that fans in Toronto are thrilled. That was four and a half years of frustration. For Smoak and for the fans, but it was too long. It felt as if two years into his Seattle tenure, everybody but the front office could see this wasn’t going to work out.

So, here we are at a similar crossroads with Dustin Ackley. Smoak played 496 games in a Mariner uniform and Ackley is sitting at 534, so the sample size and duration are pretty much the same. Ackley was never scouted as the power hitter that Smoak was. Ackley’s skill set was projected as a high-average hitter with good on-base skills. One scouting report I read over from 2009 quoted a scout as saying that Ackley is basically, “Will Clark redux. I see him being a perennial .310+ hitter with 15 home runs.” Unfortunately for Ackley – and anybody willing to suffer through being a Mariners fan – that never came to fruition. In fact, I did a bit of a spit take when I read that, since Ackley has done nothing but regress as he’s entered his prime.

For example, Ackley’s yearly OPS from 2011 forward are as such: .766; .622; .660; .692; .548. That pathetic .548 OPS is lower than the top fourteen slugging percentages in the majors this year (yes, Todd Frazier has a higher slugging percentage than Dustin’s limp OPS). The Ack Attack – a flailing alliterative nickname at best – is also sporting a nifty -0.4 WAR on the season according to baseball-reference.com. We are just about a quarter of the way through the season, so this no longer appears to be a slow start. If you are effectively less valuable than a replacement level player, then you should not be starting everyday. Before we go any further, I’d actually like to look at the Will Clark angle for a quick second.

I understand that inter-era comparisons are difficult. Deal with it, I’m not perfect, but I’m better at my job than Dustin is. Let’s check a few career numbers for Will The Thrill and see how horribly Ackley is living up to that scout’s vision of the future.

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Clark’s numbers are better than league average for his time, with walk rates at 8.9% and strikeout rates 15.7%. Ackley, on the other hand is hovering pretty close to league average. Huh! Again, there’s that sentiment of being average or below it and yet you’re the starting left and center fielder for a major league club?!? I return to this season for evidence of skill deterioration. Ackley’s walk rate for the season is at a barely existent 4.7%, coupled with a withering 56 OPS+. In a way, I feel like I shouldn’t even be allowed to call that ‘OPS+’ it’s so bad. If Ackley can’t draw walks, does he become a Two True Outcome player?

So, I suggest that it is time to flat out DFA Ackley. Austin Jackson is about ready to return to everyday centerfield duties and the Justin Ruggiano/Seth Smith platoon in left is far more serviceable than Ackley on his own. Smith’s OPS+ of 127 is a vast improvement and his average is 78 points higher. Ruggiano, in limited duties, still has put up an OPS+ of 117.

Furthermore, if the Mariners feel they need another outfielder on the bench, I’m sure that Stefen Romero wouldn’t mind another hack at the big leagues. Also in the Mariners farm system – and this is at the request of a fellow staffer here at baseballessential.com – is a young man named Patrick Kivlehan. See here for Lookout Landing’s breakdown of Kivlehan.

Both of these options seem like low-risk ones and are significantly less expensive in regards to salary. Romero, for example, makes $500,000 as opposed to Ackley’s $2.6 million. And don’t you forget, Ackley is arbitration-eligible after this season. Might as well just cut your losses now Trader Jack. Do you know how to do that?

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