By Shannon Drayer
An interesting pregame conversation with Eric Wedge Wednesday as you can imagine in the wake of the controversy sparked by comments he made about sabermetrics to the media Monday.
I was there for that conversation as were most of media who cover the team on a daily basis and I don’t believe he was saying sabermetrics were to blame for Ackley’s struggles nor do I believe that the comment was nearly as big a deal as it has been turned into. If anything, it was off the cuff. In talking to others who were there, this seems to be the consensus. The comment probably shouldn’t have been made but it was, and unfortunately for Wedge, it was taken out of context.
Wedge is fully aware of what has transpired since that morning and was more than happy to talk about it before Wednesday’s game. He pointed out that coming from the Cleveland Indians — a team that was in early on using more advanced stats under the leadership of Mark Shapiro — he in his words was a fan of using the numbers. He then went on to clarify what was missed by those who took the single comment from a conversation about a player that lasted almost five minutes:
“I use it each and every day, but it’s not the end-all,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said about sabermetrics. “It has got to be a nice blend between the human factor and the numbers.” (AP)
“When you are talking about one comment, they weren’t there for the entire conversation. We are talking about the mental side of it, we are talking about Ackley. That’s not the reason Ackley was having some issues at home plate. But what I am talking about is this most recent generation has come up in the sabermetric world and that is something that is out there and people know how important it is and what you can’t do is you can’t play this game with fear. You have got to be able to go out there and play and when you get your first good pitch to take a whack at it, you have got to go out and take a whack at it. People stress getting deeper in counts, getting walks and it is almost a backwards way of looking at it.
“So when I bust someone’s chops or make a joke of it, you can take it in a light-hearted way or you can take it personally. Quite frankly I don’t care either way but the fact of the matter is sabermetrics is a part of the game of baseball, has been for awhile, but it is my job to see it from all ways.”
Wedge has said for some time that he wanted to see Ackley more aggressive at the plate. I don’t think Ackley was trying to Moneyball himself to first base and I don’t believe Wedge thinks that either, but there is little question there has been frustration with Ackley’s approach.
One other thing that jumped out at me about the comments that Wedge made about sabermetrics on Monday is that I think there could be a general disdain for the numbers being out there simply because it is something that the players cannot ignore. It’s not that he is against the numbers, but rather like any other distraction he is concerned that they can affect his players’ performance on the field.
If you don’t believe that the players are aware of these numbers or that they can have an impact, well, you are wrong. From the pregame interview I had with Ackley himself on May 4:
“You try to stay away from it as much as you can. I mean, it is hard to when they are showing a 100-foot picture of your average every time you are up to bat. You see it a lot. I think nowadays it is kind of a overrated stat. You are looking at the guys you are driving in, the runs you are scoring, the doubles you are hitting, the bases you are stealing. But it is hard not to, especially when I was down in the .100s, you are like, ‘Oh man, this is terrible.’ It has to be on your mind, it’s on everybody’s mind.”
A little context here as well: Ackley wasn’t just throwing this out there. I asked him specifically if it was something that they as players had to stay away from. Ackley may have the look of someone who doesn’t let anything from the outside distract him but he is human. When he struggled he did hear the criticism. It is impossible to avoid.
It is tough enough to be in a struggle but what comes with the struggle from the outside is something that Wedge was concerned about. It is one of the reasons why Ackley got some of the days off he got. It is something Wedge has to manage and he touched on that Wednesday as well:
“What people have to remember is these are human beings. They are not widgets. It’s not XYZ Corporation, something out of the book. These people are human beings and that is the thing that you have to factor in the most. They have emotions, families, you have ups and downs and things that go along with that, things you can’t read on a piece of paper. But it (the numbers) is definitely a part of it and I use it each and every day, but it is not the end-all. It’s not just black and white. It has got to be a nice blend between the human factor and the numbers and you have got to go out there and motivate these guys and make sure you treat them as human beings as well.
“For those I offended I am sorry about that, but again, one thing I think you have to have in this game is broad shoulders and thick skin, so that’s something that is part of it, too.”
It was pointed out to Wedge that he did have guys who got their fair share of walks and that this didn’t seem to be an issue. He said that he wasn’t opposed to the walk as long as the approach or mindset were correct.
“Some get it, some don’t. The best hitters that get on base are the ones who are hunting the baseball from pitch one with a focus. They are up there ready to whack the first one but they are also going to take their walks because they are seeing the ball that much better because they are in that mindset.
“You can’t wait for the ball to be released and then decide if it’s going to be a ball or strike, then decide if you’re going to swing. It’s just too damn quick. You have to be in a hit mode, you have to be in a yes, yes, yes, yes mode, and then decide to stop your swing or not. [Adrian] Beltre is a good example. When he takes some pitches, he does that little hippity hot step. He’s doing everything he can not to swing, but he’s in swing mode. And he gets on base. That’s what you have to do. Kendrys Morales is up there ready to hit. But he still gets on base. Smoaker (Justin Smoak) is doing a better job of that. He’s ready to hit. He’ll start to drive the ball a little bit more, which you saw on the last roadtrip. But he walks and gets on base.”
This is what Wedge wants to see at the plate. This is what he has always wanted to see at the plate, perhaps described better than he has described it in the past. It is obviously not easy for some players. Think of Michael Saunders two years ago. He has stressed that the changes he made that kept him in the big leagues were as much mental, with the mindset to be aggressive, as they were mechanical. That is where Ackley needs to get.
Wedge was concerned over the number of 0-2 and 1-2 counts Ackley had found himself in this year but expressed confidence that he would figure it out and become a productive big leaguer. He finished by stressing that the mindset is crucial to finding success at the plate.
“I’m all about getting on base, but I’m about hitting, too. People have to understand you can’t go up there looking for a walk and expect to be a big-leaguer very long. Nobody’s stayed up here by just walking. You’ve got to hit, too. You can get deep in the count all you want, but eventually you have to hit. It’s just not a black and white thing like some people think. I can’t explain it any better than that.”