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Dustin Ackley: Disappointing Sophomore, Breakout Junior?

This morning, Zach Sanders sprinkled his fairy dust and like magic, every second baseman’s season stat line produced a dollar value. Sitting down at 21, with earnings of a mere $4, is the Mariners sophomore, Dustin Ackley. Though he had just 333 big league at-bats to his name heading into the season, the RotoGraphs pre-season rankers were actually relatively agreeable about our performance expectations. His rank sat in a narrow range between 13 and 17, which was a bit surprising for a young guy who many people really liked, and others, not so much.

Personally, I had him ranked 14th among second basemen and published my exact pre-season projections on him back in mid-January. For those who would prefer not to ruin the momentum of reading this article by bringing up a second one, I have reproduced the projection table below.

Pod 575 0.273 12 75 80 15 81% 0.320 7% 42%/21%/37%
Bill James 616 0.255 11 60 82 14 82% 0.296 ?? ??
Fans 583 0.288 14 90 98 16 80% 0.337 ?? ??
Actual 607 0.226 12 50 84 13 80% 0.265 7.1% 46%/19%/35%

As you can see, the Pod and Bill James projections were pretty darn close, except for one glaring difference. His .265 BABIP was far below what we had expected and what he had posted in previous seasons, and that killed his batting average. We were all off on that, though James was the only system to project a sub-.300 mark. With an acceptable line drive rate and a ground ball tendency, it appears to be rather poor fortune to have finished the season with such a low mark. HIs IFFB% was a bit on the high side, but not enough so to provide the entire explanation.

One thought was that SAFECO Field simply killed him, like it has done to many other hitters. That wasn’t the case this year though, as his BABIP was actually higher at home. However, his power was non-existent, as his ISO sat at a Juan Pierre-esque .057 at the park. He hit just 2 of his 12 homers there and posted a insanely weak .259 wOBA.

Speaking of power, although his home run output makes it appear that he was just fine in that department, his ISO actually dropped to just .102, after a respectable .144 during his rookie campaign. I certainly did not expect the young hitter who had shown much better power in the minors to see such a regression this year. In fact, after reading that he had gained 10 pounds over the offseason and temporarily removing my spring training noise blinders, I boldly predicted that Ackley would hit 20 home runs. His HR/FB ratio jumped by a whopping one percentage point, so yeah, I was wrong.

Sometimes people like to look at a young hitters’s second half to see if there was some improvement that could provide a harbinger of things to come. Well, Ackley managed to bat below .200 in two of the three months over the second half. On the bright side though, his strikeout percentage improved and he hit 8 of his 12 homers over those final three months.

Ackley’s home park and weak offense will absolutely limit his value ceiling next season. However, his minor league track record and pedigree (reminder: he was drafted second overall) do hint at the potential for some very solid fantasy potential. Since the major concern right now really just comes down to his batting average, which is typically the most volatile category as BABIP bounces around, he’s exactly the type of hitter to target on the cheap. The batting average has double the chance to rebound because his contact rate has a good shot to improve given the marks he had posted in the minors. He’s not far off from 15/15, and if he could contribute even a neutral batting average, he’ll provide a nice rebound season for fantasy owners.