Ackley and History

Jun 28, 2012, 3:46 PM | Updated: Jul 2, 2012, 3:16 pm

By Gary Hill

Seattle Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley has been suffering though a rough June- .224BA 0HR 23K’s in 76Abs. His overall numbers have been pulled down to .244 BA/ .319 OBP/ .338 SLG and he is tied for the team lead in whiffs. Should Mariner fans be concerned about Dustin Ackley?

To compare players past and present Wins Above Replacement (WAR) will be used from Baseballreference.com. WAR is a sabermetric statistic used to determine how many more wins a player is worth over a replacement level player at that position. For example, in 1995 Edgar Martinez put up a slash line of .356/.479/.628. He smacked a league leading 52 doubles and cracked 29 homers. He walked 116 times and fanned 87 times in 639 plate appearances. He boasted a 6.7 WAR. Former Mariner Danny Tartabull spent 1995 mostly at DH with New York and Oakland and hit .236/.335/.379. He launched 8 homers and drove in 35 while fanning 82 times in 328 AB’s. His WAR for 1995 was -0.7.

Last season Dustin Ackley put up the line .273/ .348/ .417 while hitting 6 homers, driving in 36 and walking 40 times in 376 Abs. He finished with a 3.4 WAR for the season. This season he is at .244/ .319/ .338 with 4HR 23RBI 31BB 66K’s. This year his WAR is at 1.6.

If you listen closely you will hear this exact conversation going on throughout the entire country. Fans from Seattle to Kansas City and Tampa Bay to Atlanta are all asking themselves a similar question. Should we be worried? The table below represents the players who received the most votes in the AL and NL Rookie of the Year voting from last season. In the left column you will see their WAR from last season and in the right column you will see their WAR from this year.

2011:2012

Hellickson, TB- 3.5 : 0.5

Trumbo, LAA- 2.5 : 2.2

Hosmer, KC- 1.3 : -0.9

Nova, NYY- 3 : 1.5

Pineda, NYY- 2.1 : 0

Ackley, SEA- 3.4 : 1.6

Jennings, TB- 2.3 : 1.2

Walden, LAA- 0.7 : 0.4

Kimbrel, ATL- 2.3 : 1.3

Freeman, ATL- 1.4 : 0.5

Worley, PHIL- 3.2 : 1.2

Collmenter, AZ- 1.8 : -0.2

Espinosa, WA- 1.8 : 0.1

Barney, CHC- 1.5 : 3.3

Jansen, LAD- 0.7 : 1

Of the Top 16 rookies from last season only two have a higher WAR this year than last year. Fireball Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is up by 0.3 and former Oregon State standout Darwin Barney has improved by 1.8. The word “disappointment” has been assigned to many of the seasons attached to the standout rookies from last year. There is also another term that if often attached to situations such as these- “Sophomore Slump”.

I have looked at every single Rookie of the Year from Jackie Robinson in 1947 to Buster Posey and Neftali Feliz in 2010. I have compiled rookie, second year and third year data for all 128 players who have been named AL or NL Rookie of the Year during that timeframe. Dustin Ackley, of course was not named ROY, but his performance was solid enough to compare favorably to past winners of the award. The average WAR for Rookies of the Year in their rookie season was 3.35, which is slightly lower than the 3.4 output from Ackley a year ago. The second year is where the findings get very interesting. The WAR for these same Rookies of the Year dips to an average of 2.43. The third year does not equal the first, but there is a gain (2.81). The numbers from this elite group suggest that the Sophomore Slump may be real- 3.4/2.43/2.81. Here are a few names of interest and their WAR for their first three seasons.

Willie Mays- 3.6 / 1.2 / 10.3

Willie McCovey- 3.0 / 1.6 / 2.4

Frank Howard- 1.7 / -0.1 / 3.2

Pete Rose- 2.1 / 0.9 / 5.4

Tony Oliva- 6.6 / 5.2 / 6.0

Rod Carew- 2.4 / 1.5 / 5.2

Mike Piazza- 6.8 / 3.4 / 6.0

Carlos Beltran- 4.5 / 0.6 / 6.1

Albert Pujols- 6.3 / 5.2 / 8.4

Ichiro- 7.5 / 3.3 / 5.3

Each of these cases represents the general trend, a dip in the second year followed by a recovery in the third. However, not every case fits into this box. There is the “Listach Effect” in which the recovery in the third year never happens.

Pat Listach- 4.2 / 1.4 / 0.2

Mark Fidrych- 9.3 / 2.3 / 0.6

There are also the “Uphill Outliers” whose first three years look like a climb up a steep hill if one were to graph it out.

Cal Ripken Jr.- 4.4 /8 / 9.8

Derek Jeter- 3.0 / 4.8 / 7.3

Ryan Braun- 1.8 /4.3 / 5.9

Placing Ackley in historical context he is 3.4/1.6 (so far)/? There is no way to truly know which way Ackley will go. Will he follow the Listach path or will his first three years have more of a Carew feel? In historical context the struggles we have seen from Ackley seem to be a normal part of the maturation process. His third year will tell us more about the type of player he will become. Here is the list of Rookies of the Year who put together a WAR of below 1.6 in their third season:

Roy Sievers, Sam Jethroe, Walt Dropo, Joe Black, Harry Byrd, Bob Grim, Herb Score, Albie Pearson, Ron Hansen, Don Schwall, Ken Hubbs, Tom Tresh, Gary Peters, Tommie Agee, Ted Sizemore, Lou Piniella, Carl Morton, Chris Chambliss, Al Bumbry, John Montefusco, Fred Lynn, Butch Metzger, Pat Zachry, Mark Fidrych, Rick Sutcliffe, Alfredo Griffin, Joe Charboneau, Steve Sax, Ron Kittle, Alvin Davis, Todd Worrell, Jerome Walton, Greg Olson, Sandy Alomar, Eric Karros, Pat Listach, Bob Hamelin, Marty Cordova, Todd Hollandsworth, Scott Williamson, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Eric Hinske, Angel Berroa, Bobby Crosby, Huston Street, Justin Verlander, Chris Coghlan and Andrew Bailey.

I am not going to list every single player who finished with a WAR above 1.6, but know the list is much more impressive and includes names like Seaver, Dawson, Bench, Mays and more.

My conclusion is that you should not be worried about Ackley right now at all. I also suspect his career path will take him closer to Carew than to Listach. However, if one year from now he is sporting a WAR below 1.5 then we can begin a real conversation about whether or not we should be concerned. Until then, assume you are watching a young hitter grow even if it looks like a step-back.

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Ackley and History