Lower the Expectations For Ackley, Kipnis, Goldschmidt and Thames in 2012

While working on my 2B rankings, I kept seeing Dustin Ackley and Jason Kipnis ranked low. The rankings were a combination of 2011 stats and ZIP preseason projections. While they both hit good in 2011, the projections seemed low. I decided to look into players that had similar rookie seasons and how they performed the next year.

I took all rookies from 1991 to 2011 that had between 150 and 400 PA and an OPS between 0.750 and 0.850. I chose to use OPS, because it is an encompassing stat that is available in the options at Baseball-reference’s Pay Index. Twenty-eight players made the list. Besides Ackley and Kipnis, two other rookies from 2011 where on it, Paul Goldschmidt and Eric Thames. In the end, I had 24 players to use in the comparison.

Of the 24 players, 21 of them saw their OPS drop in the 2nd year. Of the 3 that had their OPS increase, only Jason Giambi saw it significantly increase (0.761 to 0.836). The other two, Drew Stubbs (0.762 to 0.773) and Jay Gibbons (0.781 to 0.792), saw it only only increase by 0.011. On average, all 24 players saw their OPS go down by 0.065 (0.792 to 0.726).

If the same reduction in OPS was applied to the 4 rookies from 2011, their 2012 OPS would be the following. I have included the player with the closest average OPS from the combined years of 2009 to 2011 for comparison:

Kipnis: 0841 (Adrian Beltre) to 0.776 (Alfonso Soriano)
Goldschmidt: 0.808 (Michael Cuddyer) to 0.743 (Vernon Wells)
Thames: 0.769 (Marlon Byrd) to 0.704 (Skip Schumaker)
Ackley: 0.766 (Starlin Castro) to 0.701 (Clint Barmes)

The average drop would be rather substantial for these 4. The drop could actually be less. It could also be worse. For everyone that is hoping for greatness from Ackley, the Clint Barmes name is probably not what they are wanting to see.

The main problem with this group of players is that they are just entering the majors at an older age (age 23 and 24) than most rookies. Next season they will be 24 and 25 years old and just a year or two from their offensive peak at age 26.

I can see people being awe struck the seasons some rookies had last year. Historically, almost all of these older rookies regressed the next season. I now feel less guilty ranking the 2B rookies fairly low.

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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.

27 Responses to “Lower the Expectations For Ackley, Kipnis, Goldschmidt and Thames in 2012”

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  1. Erik K says:

    Allen Craig is 3-4 years younger than Kipnis or Ackley? I thought Craig was 27? At least his birthday implies that.

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  2. Art Deco says:

    Wha? Allen Craig will be 28 next July.

    Plus he only played 8 games at 2B this year, making him unlikely to qualify at the position in the vast majority of leagues.

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  3. redsoxtalk says:

    Regression is the Achilles’ Heel of many a fantasy owner.

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  4. Scott says:

    subtraction is hard

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  5. Rob Johnson says:

    Brett Lawrie was 2B eligible in my league this season. Maybe he’ll be next season, but I don’t know. How do you feel about him going forward; how much do you except him to regress? Regarding Ackley, I think his plate discipline gives him a much stronger shot at maintaining his OPS than most other hitters at his age and experience level.

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      1st – there is about zero chance he ends up at 2B in any league. He played all his minor and major league games at 3B in 2012.

      I know that Michael Barr is covering him with the 3B

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  6. theeiffeltower says:

    Wait a second, you didn’t look at minor league numbers or general pedigree at all?

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    • Everett says:

      Exactly. Ackley has been one of the top prospects in all of baseball since being drafted, and has the minor league #s to back it up. How many of the players in this sample were top prospects?

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      • Jeff Zimmerman says:

        10 of the players (Matt Wieters, Pedro Alvarez, Matt LaPorta, Travis Buck, Jeromy Burnitz, Marcus Giles, Adam LaRoche, Ramon Hernandez, Orlando Hudson, Drew Stubbs) were on BA’s top 100 prospect list. They saw their average OPS drop by 0.078. If I look at just Wieters (1), Alvarez (8), and Matt LaPorta (23), with their rank next to their name, OPS drops by 0.116 (0.763 to 0.646). Pedigree makes the drop worse.

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    • My thought exactly. If you look at Minor League numbers, you can see that Ackley walked nearly 15% of his PAs vs 5.9% for Barmes, they hit from the opposite side of the plate, and Barmes spent four more years in the minors than Ackley. They aren’t the same hitter at all. Seems lazy to compare them based solely on OPS, IMO.

      Oh, I’m a Mariners fan BTW, so maybe I’m being too defensive when it comes to Ackley.

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      • Adam says:

        I would agree with this, and second that as far as Kipnis is concerned. I just don’t think you can use OPS as any kind of a predictive measure. Even in a limited sample size, things like swing rate and swinging strike rate seem to stabilize rather quickly. Kipnis showed a very advanced approach at the plate in his 150 plate appearances in 2011:

        26.7% O-Swing% (league average is 30.6%)
        41% Swing% (average is 46.2%)
        8.7% swinging strike % (8.6% is average)

        So he doesn’t swing and miss more than average, and when he does swing, he tends to be swinging at good pitches. Despite only putting up a .333 OBP in the majors in 2011, he has a strong history of .380+ OBP’s in the minors, walking in over 10% of his plate appearances at 3 different levels of the minors.

        In case it isn’t obvious by now, I am an Indians fan. I don’t expect another .235 ISO from Jason going forward, but an ISO between .190 and .210 is very realistic and very productive for a 2B.

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  7. Table says:

    This was terribly unconvincing.

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    • philosofool says:

      No, this was terribly to be expected. Take any medium sized or even small subset of above average performers (randomly selected) and you will almost always see their futuer performance be low. A similar thing, in the opposite direct, happens for below average performers. It’s regression to the mean, and we should expect it.

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      • Table says:

        It’s just that so few factors are considered. The fact that these players are old for rookies is mentioned….but then doesn’t that have to be considered a factor that might change their projected regression? I just don’t see much evidence that shows they will regress at the same rates as the sampled rookies.

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  8. Joeyheynow says:


    Ackley hits third. He has 15 SB potential.
    He has OBP skills (may not apply to your fantasy league)


    Ackley plays for the team with the 30th ranked OBP (.298), killing his fantasy value. If you have him, attempt to trade him for another keeper.

    If you own him in a keeper or contract league, attempt to trade him this offseason.

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  9. joe bananas says:

    i’m still keeping ackley. he costs me $1 over the next 2 seasons.

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  10. short says:

    I’m totally keeping Ackley, and will draft him if he’s available in my non-keeper leagues. Of course this is because I have a hopeless man-crush on him and has nothing to do with statistics. Still, 24 players is not a compelling sample size. Ackley’s eye at the plate is fantastic and he makes excellent contact. Those skills tend to translate very well at the major league level.

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  11. Colin says:

    I would temper my expectations of Ackley but only because he plays for the Mariners and does not steal bases in large numbers. I’m assuming we’re talking about leagues that count RBI and Runs. He’ll hit for average and get on base but that does not equate to a great fantasy player as opposed to real life. In my league I think he’s slightly more valuable because we count D+T and OBP but if your using average and whatever, I would not think twice about putting him low.

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  12. Nik says:

    Historically they regressed? The sample of 24 guys is so small it is worthless.

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  13. Tristan says:

    As somebody else already mentioned too, there’s absolutely nothing predictive about OPS. Plus, this is using SOMEBODY ELSE’S OPS to make the prediction! The more I think about it, the less sense any of this makes. Sure, don’t get to hopeful about Ackley being amazing next year because he might have a sophomore slump. But I just don’t see how he’s due to be as bad a Clint Barmes just because his OPS was between .750 and .850 this season.
    You just can’t use OPS to predict such a huge drop off. Just like you couldn’t take one look at Bautista’s 2009 OPS or Justin Upton’s 2010 OPS and say “well because they’re in the so and so range, these guys are going to be two of the most valuable assets in all of baseball next year…”
    There’s also the whole peripherals thing somebody touched on.
    Anyway, it’s ridiculous.

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  14. Ron Paul says:

    I’m not sure I understand the point of this article. This is not an attempt to be critical, I just don’t understand it. What do 24 players in the past, w/ an average to above average OPS have to do w/ the new 4 players? Anyone who watched Goldschmidt and Ackley hit, know they’re completely different players.

    Since when are 23-24 year old rookies old? College players are 22 by the time they make it to their first spring training. If they blast through the minors in mere months, they may still qualify as rookies by their 2nd season in pro ball. They would be 23 that year….sorry, just don’t get this article. It has no reflection on past or future articles though, and I’ll continue to come to this site.

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  15. CDI says:

    “The drop could actually be less. It could also be worse.”


    Tomorrow it could rain… or, it might not.

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  16. joser says:

    Don’t automatically assume Ackley going to hit third this season. Nothing about the M’s 2012 lineup is set, including Ichiro batting lead-off (in fact that’s looking doubtful, putting all the other spots in flux).

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