Some of Dustin Ackley’s 2012 Struggles are Probably the Result of Bad Luck

When Dustin Ackley was drafted he was considered by far the safest pick. Maybe he didn’t have the highest ceiling of anyone not named Stephen Strasburg, that was probably Donovan Tate, but Ackley was sure to become an MLB quality hitter early on in his career.

Ackley came up in 2011 after hitting pretty well for half a season in Tacoma. In June and July, Ackley’s first two months of big league experience, he absolutely dominated. He posted two months with a wRC+ of 161 and 145 respectively, and those crazy months made his otherwise respectable 117 wRC+ in August look crappy. He lost a lot of steam at the end of the season, and posted a 73 wRC+ in September and October combined.

With high expectations going into 2012, Ackley disappointed. He posted an 82 wRC+ in April, 108 in March, and never exceeded 100 again. Ackley has been a below-average hitter in six of the past seven months. Of course, Ackley apparently nursed an ankle injury through most of 2012, but whatever, I don’t know how to quantify that, and we don’t have enough of a sample to establish a baseline for Ackley.

One of the major focuses of Ackley’s issues have been his strikeouts. They’re an issue. He’s supposed to be a contact hitter and his minor league numbers showed him to be a guy that could make good contact very frequently. Another idea though, and one that points to a relative revival in 2013 is Ackley’s .265 BABIP, and how his batted ball types remained generally normal. Ackley’s foot speed and scouting profile should lend themselves to a higher BABIP, in all actuality, so this makes some sense.

A level deeper though, we find that perhaps it isn’t that Ackley’s getting screwed on well-hit balls. Here’s Ackley’s BABIP on each batted ball type compared to the league average:

GB .234 .232
FB .123 .063
LD .682 .696

Last year when we looked at John Jaso and his luck, what we found was that he had been remarkably unlucky on line drives. By contrast, what we see is that Ackley has been unlucky on fly balls. Logical thought would be that Ackley hits a bunch of low-percentage fly balls. Infield fly balls are remarkably unlikely to become base hits. Ackley hit 12.9 percent of his fly balls to the infield. League average is 10.0 percent. That’s a real concern. Ackley hits a higher percentage of his fly balls to the infield than the average hitter. That’s not to say, though, that it accounts for all of his bad luck on fly balls.

An additional consideration is that Ackley performed poorly on fly balls in play but perhaps more importantly, Ackley didn’t lift a lot of balls out of the park. This is Ackley’s wRC+ on various batted ball types compared to league average:

  Lg wRC+ Ackley wRC+
GB 28 28
FB 124 21
LD 345 374

He’s never been a guy considered to have a ton of power, but if you take a look at the spray chart of all of his balls in play, there’s reason to be positive about his chances to benefit from Safeco’s fences moving, as he sprayed balls all over the field and many of them appeared to die on or near the warning track.

dustin ackley spray chart

Dustin Ackley was bad last year, and he has some things to work on. That’s not to say, however, that his struggles weren’t at least something a product of bad luck. Everybody would like to see him hit more line drives and strikeout less often, but if he swings to even luck on balls in play with the same batted-ball type frequencies he’d gain .017 points on his BABIP with an expected BABIP of .282.

As a guy that profiles to have a higher BABIP than average, we may hope for a significant upswing for Ackley.

  • maqman

    I’m hoping for a significant upswing for Ackley too, I hope we both get lucky. So far I’m impressed by the power output, an average of over 6 runs a game. SSS I know but it is still better than 1 or 2 a game. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if we outscored the Texicans and the Anaheimians after spending less than $5MM on free agent sluggers (Bay and Raul).