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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:

Season: AVG/OBP/SLG
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 Brooksbaseball.net 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.