How “Real” is Ackley’s July?


== What can we figure here? ==

Things we know:

  • Dustin Ackley is hot in July, hitting .390/.405/.506.
  • You can tell from the difference between the second and first numbers, that walk rate is very low (2.5%).
  • You can tell from the difference between the third and first numbers that his extra-base hit rate is not spectacular (no home runs, .116 ISO).
  • If he’s not relying on homers or extra-base hits, then we can infer that he’s riding a hot BABIP and we’d be right: .469.
  • For April, May and June, Ackley’s K-rate was about the same as July (17% vs. 16%), and his ISO was about the same (.115 vs. .116).
  • For April, May and June, his BB-rate was much higher (7.2% [closer to MLB-average and Ackley’s career norm] vs. that 2.5%).
  • For April, May and June, his BABIP was much lower (.264 vs. .469).
  • I know this gets more complicated, but we can break down BABIP into singles and doubles/triples.  You’ve probably gotten accustomed to the average BABIP being around .300.  Well, for the average player about .225 of that is singles and .075 is doubles or triples. [Homers are not balls-in-play, so you know.]
  • For April, May and June, Ackley was horribly off on singles (.174 SBABIP vs. .225 MLB) but about right on doubles/triples (.071 XBBABIP vs. .075 MLB).
  • For July, Ackley is busting out on singles (.328 vs. the .225 norm), but he is also busting out on doubles (.141 vs. .075 norm).
  • So some of Ackley’s emergence is reversion to the mean in terms of singles [as in: ephemeral, not likely wholly sustainable], but some of it is not [as in: real progress].

A thing we don’t know:

  • How much is “apparent, but not actual” progress and how much is “actual” progress.

More things we know:

  • A low-K, low-BB, high-BABIP approach can be sustainable … if you go by one name and that name is Ichiro.  His career singles BABIP is .290 or 65 points higher than what the normal player does, while his career extra-base BABIP is actually below-average .052.  His whole career is hitting more singles than anyone ever thought possible.
  • Up to this point, Ackley has been entirely conventional and has borne no resemblance to the Ichiro approach.  That is, his career singles BABIP is .225 on the dot and his career extra-base BABIP is .070.

Three things we think:

  • We can scratch the idea that Ackley can transform himself into a singles-hitting machine.  He did not become Ichiro on July 1.
  • Therefore, some portion of that singles BABIP is just good fortune/reversion to the mean and not likely to be sustained.
  • But that does not seem to be the whole story either.

More things we know:

  • Ackley has, in fact, gotten more aggressive at the plate.  For April, May and June he swung at 43.5% of pitches.  MLB average is around 46%.  That put Ackley among the 50 most-selective qualifying hitters.
  • [Note: when I say “aggressive” I’m referring to the “swing vs. not-swing” decision.  The actual swing might well be less “swing-for-the-fences aggressive” and more line-drive oriented.]
  • For July, he has swung at 47.3% of pitches.  Now slightly above-average.  Had he done that all year, he would be among the 80 most-aggressive qualifying hitters.
  • And here’s the good thing: his contact rate went down only slightly, from 85.1% to 84.1%, and his swing-and-miss rate went up only from 6.3% to 7.1%.
  • When you scan the guys who swing a lot, you’ll see plenty of Mark Reynolds (swing 48.7%, miss 15.3%) or Ryan Howard (swing 48.2%, miss 14.9%).
  • When you look for guys swinging 47-48% and missing only 7% … well, there’s Albert Pujols (swing 47.8%, miss 6.7%) and Ian Kinsler (swing 47.3%, miss 4.4%).  Good company.
  • Ackely has, in fact, hit more line drives in July (23.4%) than in the prior months (17.1%), and fewer fly balls.

So here’s what we think:

  • There does seem to be something positive happening: in July anyway, Ackley is swinging more but still making contact at pretty much the same rate.
  • This seems to be showing up in more line drives and more doubles.
  • Ackley is also hitting more singles, and, while some of this is random variation, some is not.
  • Ackley still needs to figure out how to make his new, more aggressive approach work with his old walk rate (around 8.8% the last two years).
  • If he can do that, then it’s pretty easy to see his OPS rising over .700 (.260/.330/.380, for example), which would make him a useful outfielder, though not a star.  Something around .270/.350/.400, which is pretty much what he had his rookie season, would seem reachable … but only if he can recover the walks while also maintaining the more aggressive approach.
  • In other words, he can make it as a “walks-and-doubles” guy … he just needs to get both walks and doubles.  Ha!
  • Of course, it’s also possible that this is the beginning of a plateau leap that might bring him to the Kinsler or Pedroia-level we’d hoped for in 2011 (guys with awesome plate skills who also run ISO closer to .150), but let’s not go there yet.

At least we’re seeing movement in a positive direction.




3 thoughts on “How “Real” is Ackley’s July?

  1. I think it serious adjustments being made on Ackley’s part. He had a similar bust out last August, and followed it up with a September that was pretty meager hit and power wise but filled with lots and lots of bases on balls. I think he’s just real streaky, but he’s figuring it out as well. I’m glad you put the babip in perspective. I get really tired of people pointing out “it ain’t sustainable” (well, DUH) while at the same time insisting that his low babip in the past is the real Ackley. It’s all gonna even out in the end. He’s at .725 OPS over the past 365 days. That’s the real Ackley, right now.

  2. For record purposes, I’m putting herein Matt’s and my take on GLS’s original SSI question:

    Question for anyone that would like to venture an opinion: is the recent Ackley hitting streak real and sustainable? What’s going on there?

    SABR Matt:
    His secondary stats haven’t changed much from prior seasons. His LD% is down but his ISO is back to career norms rather than paltry like last year. His plate discipline stats are normal for him except that he’s generally swinging more often. His walk rate is down with no change in K rate. In the most recent month or so, his K/BB is 12/2 (that’s not good) and his ISO is a normal .115 or so. The main change is BABIP, which is normally around .310 for his career but is over .450 during the hot streak with no change in LD%. I’m gonna say…not real.

    Ackley: the hitting is real – he looks like he did when he first came up and was putting up decent numbers, before Wedge tried changing him. Whether it’s sustainable is a whole different matter. he’s tinkered so much with things since he came up, I’m surprised he’s back striding into the ball and getting solid, shoulder-driven wood on it.

    I’d say if he can keep his focus for a few more weeks, pitchers will start pounding him and we’ll see if he can keep his shoulder in still. If so, he may be able to be the hitter he should be, a doubles, gap-to-gap hitter with good speed; a perfect #2 or a #6-7 to keep rallies going. A hitter in AAA threatening his job would, in my opinion, help him keep his focus and get him to keep attacking the ball. But HoJo seems to have gotten into his head enough I have some hope.

    Is that going to be enough to carry lineup weight from LF? Well, he’s still better suited in my mind to 2B, but Cano answers that question both ways – Ackley won’t displace him, but Robbie hits so well he gives some room for a lighter bat in LF.

    SABR Matt:
    LOL…interesting how we came to opposite conclusions even though we’re both seeing the same guy and both encouraged with the better looking ABs right now. I’m just not seeing big changes in the component stats that would suggest that there’s a real skills change in the works. Makes me think he’s seeing the ball real well right now but whatever mechanical changes he’s made aren’t likely to last.

    Matt – I think we are seeing the same things – by keeping his head still and his shoulder closed, he IS seeing the ball better. If he CAN continue to do so, then it will start to show up as a skills change. It hasn’t yet, but as he gains confidence, it either will, or he’ll start pulling off again and the ball will no longer be seen as clearly, and he’ll go back to OPSing .640.

    We’ll just have to see what Mr. Ackley does when pitchers adjust. When he was pulling off, the book was away, away. Now that he’s staying on the ball and obviously seeing it well, they’ll start busting him and moving his feet.

    If HoJo can get him through that by helping him keep his hands in and scorch a few down the RF line while not pulling off, then the skills change will start to show – he’ll see the ball more consistently and his walk rate should increase and his Ks go back down to his minors numbers. IF ……

    … When he first came up, he was able to do it – I’m hoping he can rediscover how.

    And then for illustration, the pictures of Ackley’s swing in April and last night that show the earlier pull-out on the swing I was talking about, and the correction he has made:

    @ProspectInsider: Boy does this — — look so much better than this — #ackley

    Now when they start pounding him and moving his feet, we’ll see what happens. But we have all our observations in one neat package — Thanks, Spec !

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