Franklin and Ackley Left a Mess at 2B

The Seattle Mariners 2B situation was a disaster in 2013. As group they hit .229/.299/.340 with Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin getting most of the plate appearances. The Mariners expected not to struggle because both Ackley and Franklin were highly touted prospects. According to Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects, Akley was ranked #11 in 2010 and #13 in 2011. Franklin was the #53 in 2012 and #79 in 2013. Both struggled in 2013 and the outlook for 2014 isn’t much better.

Dustin Ackley

Ackley excelled at every minor league level and hit decent as as rookie. Then for one and half seasons, he stunk, badly. He began turning his production around after a demotion at the end of May. Here are his triple slash lines over the time frames:

2011: .273/.348/.417
2012: .226/.294/.328
2012 (Before Demotion): .205/.266/.250
2013 (After Demotion): .285/.354/.404

After reading around, Ackley basically decided to swing more (source):

“… I just have to get up there and attack every at-bat and not be tentative in any way,” Ackley said. “When I did that, I had the most success, and it felt like it used to. “

He began to attack pitches, especially early in the count. Before the demotion, he was mainly taking on 0-0 counts and falling behind. Then he was forced to swing at more borderline pitches later in the count. Here are his 0-0 count swinging strike zones heat maps before and after the demotion.

Since he was swinging at more pitches in the strike zone, he was able to increase his LD% from 17% in the season’s first half to 27% in the second hanf while maintaining the same GB/FB ratio (1.9). To check on this discipline before the season’s start go to and it will have a few spring training values since the Mariners spring training facility has Pitchf/x installed. If a person’s draft is later, they can get some information on Ackley’s swing tendencies.

So to put a value on his ability, he just doesn’t have a bunch of upside. After being promoted in 2013, he basically hit the same as his rookie season which isn’t really that good. And more importantly, he as a ton of downside.

Nick Franklin

The 22-year-old Franklin was called up to the majors after destroying AAA to start the season. He had some initial success in the majors, but by the end of the season was struggling mightily. For the season, he hit for an .225 AVG with 12 HRs and 6 SB in 412 PA. The home runs were nice, but the low AVG was a just a value killer.

A low AVG is usually caused by a low BABIP and/or high strikeout rate. In Franklin’s case, his BABIP was near league average (.290), but he struck out way too much (27.4%). He showed some propensity to strikeout in all the minors (19.2%), but not close to his 2013 MLB levels. Looking at his xK% using his plate discipline values, he ends up with a projected K% of 23.8%. A decent correction, but still not great. Steamer Projections sees an even further drop to 21.9% K%. Even with the lower K%, Steamer only has him hitting a disappointing .236.

In the minors, he did not have a low BABIP with it usually hovering around .350. I looked at his xBABIP to see if his 2013 BABIP (.290) was out of line. I calculated his xBABIP at .299. His main problem is he had problems adjusting to MLB breaking pitches (source)

Part of the learning curve is dealing with off-speed pitches, which have come with increased frequency as Franklin’s struggles mount. He struck out the first three times in Thursday’s 7-1 loss to the Rays, the third coming with the bases loaded on a 3-2 changeup by Alex Cobb.

“There were times through the entire game where he was just throwing me a lot of curveballs,” Franklin said. “I was looking for that pitch before, and he threw me a changeup for a ball. I thought for sure he wouldn’t throw it twice.”

Welcome to the big leagues.

“When young guys get up here, you’re going to be tested to see if you can hit a fastball,” said Thompson. “If you can’t, you’re going to keep getting them. Well, he’s a pretty good fastball hitter. Now all of the sudden, word gets out and they’re throwing breaking balls in fastball counts and he has not really made that adjustment yet. That should come with time.”

The struggles can be seen with his low Pitch Values against sliders and curveballs.

Teams began to use more breaking offspeed pitches as the season went on.

In May, 27% of his pitches he saw were breaking or offspeed. The number jumped to 38% in September. As pitchers figured him out, his K% went from 23% in his first 51 games to 32% in his last 51 games.

The one saving grace from his 2013 season seemed to be his home run total of 12 in 412 PA. The problem was his power died off also as the season went on. In his first 51 games, he hit 8 HRs, and a 188 ISO. In his second 51 games, it was 4 HRs and a .123 ISO. He just wasn’t able to square on the ball as much.

Truthfully, owners who roster him him 2014 are betting on him figuring out MLB breaking and offspeed pitches. Some hitters are able to make the adjustment, others aren’t. I am sure there will be some rhetoric during spring training on him working on the adjustment. The key will be in the results. Owners beware.


Going into 2014, the pair will likely not set the world on fire, but I like Dustin Ackley to out produce Nick Franklin. Ackley has already worked through his major issue of not swinging early in the count. Franklin on the other hand is still struggling against breaking and offspeed pitches. He will need to adjust or he will become baseball, and therefor fantasy, irrelevant. The 2B situation in Seattle just doesn’t look to have a bright future.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

11 Responses to “Franklin and Ackley Left a Mess at 2B”

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  1. KJ says:

    Any chance Triunfel excels at SS and they move Miller to 2B?

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    • RT says:

      All of the other options (Ackley, Miller, Franklin) have strongly outperformed Triunfel at the minor league level. Triunfel hasn’t really shown much big-league upside, whereas the others have shown the potential to at least be serviceable in the majors. None of them, except for Ackley maybe, have had enough big league experience to really draw anything conclusive from. It will just be a similar platoon situation next year until someone decides to take the job, if that happens. But at this point its pretty safe to say that Triunfel isn’t any better of an option, however he is only 23.

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  2. Spa City says:

    It seems a bit early to think of Nick Franklin as anything other than a promising 23 year old. He hit very well in 2010, 11 and 12, and he tore up AAA in early 2013. So he struggled as a 22 y/o rookie for a half season… He wound up with a .290 BABIP, which should improve. He still walked in more than 10% of his plate appearances, and he hit for some power.

    Ackley clearly has talent, but he is coming off two terrible years and is 3 years older than Nick. I would think Ackley would get every chance to prove his value in Spring Training – if for nothing else, in hopes he can restore trade value. But Nick Franklin seems like a good bet to take the position by the ASG.

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    • Balthazar says:

      I completely agree with this. The over-reaction on Nick Franklin is striking. He was dinged up later in the season, played a longer season than he ever has in his life, and had a bad slump throughout August. We’re writing him down at 70% off for 100 late season ABs? Please.

      Franklin has a history of swinging aggressively upon each promotion. Subsequently, he adapted each time to the level of competition—and tattooed it. Despite a history of swinging away, Franklin has consistently increased his walk rate as he’s moved up to higher levels. His ISO is real; he has pop. My biggest worry was is his over-aggressiveness _in the field_ were he made errors repeatedly trying to do too much. Then again, the Mariners delayed moving Franklin to 2B due to Ackley, so Franklin really doesn’t have that many innings at the position. One might argue that ‘the league adjusted to Franklin’—but there’s upside to that. Nick had enough PT in 2013 he’s _already_ had his sophomore slump. Now, he gets to adjust to their adjustments. I’m more worried about a guy who won’t swing than a guy who wants too.

      I doubt there is a year of their major league careers going forward where Franklin doesn’t significantly outproduce Ackley. I’d see Ackely as a good trade candidate except he’d be moved at a discount at this point do to his down-and-up year. Ackley improved what he had to with the bat to become a solid regular, but it’s hard to see more than that, although he has real value at 2B. With another team. If Ackley is moved this offseaon, it would best be part of a package. If Ackley and Franklin are both on the Mariners roster into 2014, Franklin will move the other guy off that roster by the 2014 offseason.

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  3. joser says:

    Depending on what happens in the offseason (eg, Mariners pick up a couple of outfieders) one of those two is very possibly trade bait — if not in the winter, then by July. And other teams have a way turning disappointing Mariners into decent players (just as the Mariners have a way of turning other teams’ decent players into disappointments)

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  4. KCFANINPA says:

    KC should look to trade one of their CFs Dyson or Cain to Seattle for Ackley.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Yes, those are moves with good upside for both teams. I’d say Cain to Seattle. But I’d rather have Peter Bourjos it that’s doable.

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  5. bryan says:

    problem solved.

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  6. boringdan says:

    A bleak situation indeed

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  7. Spa City says:

    The Mariners situation at Second Base seems to have worked itself out nicely. At least for the next several years, after which it will become a much bigger mess.

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  8. Matt says:

    Robby Cano begs to differ….

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