Dustin Ackley isn’t becoming a star, but has become useful

Dustin Ackley was supposed to be good. The Mariners drafted him second overall because he was supposed to be good. There was never much of a chance that Ackley would be great, but he could be good. Then he moved to second base, which based on his defensive profile seemed like a position of greater value for the prospect.

Dustin Ackley hasn’t been good in his career. He did an incredible job becoming a quality defender at second base, but for whatever reason, his bat hasn’t been particularly good since the first two months of his career, when he posted consecutive months of 161 and 145 wRC+, respectively, in the months of June and July of 2011. At one point, way too far into the season, you could count Ackley’s swings and misses on one hand. He made a ton of contact and usually it was quality contact.

He was good enough, that I actually suggested that the Mariners should extend him long-term.

Things changed after that. He’s stayed good defensively, and has even improved his outfield defense statistically after being ousted at second base by Robinson Cano. But he pretty much hadn’t hit well between those two months in 2011 and the beginning of July of 2014. In those first two months he had 17 extra base hits in 131 plate appearances. Since the beginning of July, Ackley has hit 14 extra base hits in his last 114 plate appearances at the time of this writing.

So is Dustin Ackley fixed? Well, let’s start with his overall value.

Since being worth 2.9 WAR in 2011, Ackley has been disappointing, but actually better than replacement level. Scraping to be above replacement level isn’t what you’d expect from a second overall pick, but it’s better than nothing. In nearly 1,100 plate appearances from 2012-2013 Ackley has been worth 1.7 WAR. This year, in only 389 plate appearances, Ackley has been worth 1.4 WAR. But what we what, what we really really want, is for Ackley to become something better than a player who produces at some rate above average, ideally above average by a lot.

Here is a list of players who produced similar peripherals to Ackley leading up to their Age 26 season in the last 20 years. Each player had 1000 plate appearances before their Age 27 season, and a range of ISO of .100-.140, K% of 15-20 percent, and BB% of 7.5-10 percent. Ackley’s numbers are .115 ISO, 18.3 K%, and 8.6 BB%.

Before Age 27 season

Name BB% K% ISO wRC+ Def WAR
Andy LaRoche 9.20% 15.30% 0.113 72 8.4 0.8
Asdrubal Cabrera 7.90% 16.30% 0.137 107 -7.5 12.3
Blake DeWitt 8.60% 15.60% 0.123 87 -3 1.8
Brandon Crawford 7.90% 17.80% 0.105 84 29.7 4.5
Carlos Febles 9.00% 16.00% 0.115 79 4.2 2.1
Carlos Guillen 9.10% 17.20% 0.12 90 17.7 4.7
Chris Coghlan 8.60% 16.60% 0.131 105 -22.3 2.9
Daniel Descalso 7.90% 17.60% 0.103 80 -10.9 0.5
Dustin Ackley 8.60% 18.30% 0.115 90 11 6
Jermaine Allensworth 8.60% 18.60% 0.103 88 -25 -0.8
Luis Valbuena 8.60% 19.70% 0.119 71 2.9 -0.3
Yonder Alonso 9.30% 16.00% 0.116 108 -16.5 2.4

Age 27 and after

Name BB% K% ISO wRC+ Def WAR
Andy LaRoche 9.10% 15.60% 0.111 73 5.1 0.2
Asdrubal Cabrera 7.50% 17.20% 0.14 104 -17.3 13.9
Blake DeWitt 8.60% 15.60% 0.123 87 -3 1.8
Brandon Crawford 8.80% 19.20% 0.117 88 31.8 5.9
Carlos Febles 8.60% 15.70% 0.104 75 -1.2 1
Carlos Guillen 9.70% 15.20% 0.158 111 9.2 25.9
Chris Coghlan 8.80% 16.60% 0.129 101 -41.1 2.4
Daniel Descalso 7.60% 18.00% 0.098 76 -12.9 -0.3
Jermaine Allensworth 8.70% 19.20% 0.107 87 -24.5 -0.7
Luis Valbuena 10.20% 19.20% 0.14 84 10.6 3.3
Yonder Alonso 8.40% 15.30% 0.123 103 -19.6 2.5

That’s not a super exciting group. Many of these guys are middle infielders, which helps their value, and also traditionally has made teams much more forgiving of their suspect bats. Only four of these guys have been above average at the plate after their age 27 seasons, and Alonso, Coghlan, and Cabrera have barely crossed that mark.

Carlos Guillen is kind of the shining example of this kind of player developing into something valuable, but Guillen had to do it while playing substantial innings at second base, third base, shortstop, and left field. Guillen was arguably underrated, but he was never a star.

This profile hasn’t exploded in recent years. The average WAR/600 PA for these players is about 1.5 WAR. Ignore Guillen, the largest outlier, and the average drops to 1.0 WAR/600PA.

Dustin Ackley is having an alright year. He’ll probably be about league average, and he’s pretty good defensively so far this year in left field. He’s probably going to end up with a value of about 2.0 WAR, which is roughly league average. That’s a substantial improvement over what the Mariners have been getting out of their corner outfield spots in recent years, with a combined 0.3 WAR in the past two years coming out of left field, and a combined 0.9 WAR coming out of right field in the same two years, which was heavily aided by the defense of Ichiro and Casper Wells.

Ackley is not a star, but he’s not entirely useless, and he represents depth in the infield to go along with what is becoming a good defensive profile in the outfield.