== 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.