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Collette Calls: That Ackley Kid

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

Remember these reports?

...has the ability to rocket through the system and to make his pro debut as early as this year. His combination of plate discipline, bat speed, and hand-eye coordination has scouts projecting him as a .300 hitter with a .400 on-base percentage annually, and you can throw plus-plus speed into the package as well.

...The most important offensive statistic is getting on base, and he should do just that, often flirting with .400 on-base percentages while hitting .300 with doubles power.

...Scouts regarded him as one of the most polished hitters to come out of the draft in years. He is extremely patient at the plate, recognizes pitches well and isn't afraid to wait for the pitch he wants or to hit with two strikes.

Based on those reports, you would have likely bid aggressively on that player in a keeper league thinking he was a sure thing for fantasy success. Had you done that, you would have had a player that came out of the gate hitting .304/.364/.536 to start his career but would then go onto hit .232/.302/.329 over the next two seasons in 1,186 plate appearances.

That player is Dustin Ackley.

Ackley was the second overall pick of the 2009 amateur draft and after that hot start, disappointed many a fantasy player over the past two years who expected so much more from him. His saving grace from a fantasy perspective was that he qualified at second base while producing double-digit home runs and stolen bases. The low point for Ackley and his owners came in late May when he was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma as his manager blamed sabermetrics for hurting Ackley as he said the young man was too patient at the plate.

The fact of the matter was that Ackley was simply not hitting the baseball as a major leaguer should. In that two-year stretch between the 2011 and 2013 all-star games, Ackley had a 20 percent strikeout rate, a nine percent walk rate, with a .281 batting average on balls in play and just a .097 Isolated Power score. Quietly, since the second “half" of the 2013 season began, Ackley has rediscovered some of his rookie success. Heading into play on August 27th, Ackley was hitting .330/.380/.468 since the All-Star break. While he has just one homer and one stolen base, he has eight doubles and has shown more aggressiveness at the plate.

You will recall earlier that Wedge thought an overly patient approach was ruining Ackley. That was just one piece of the two-piece jigsaw puzzle.

It was not very tough to get him out during that time either. In talking to one scout, he said the recipe to get Ackley out was rather simple:

These days, Ackley seems to be hitting the ball with authority the other way. Before that, there was no chance in that happening. All you had to do was pound him with fastballs the other way and he would get himself out.

In reviewing the data over the past two seasons, that report is partially true. Ackley actually had a better batting average on pitches on the outer half of the plate from mid-July 2011 to mid-July 2013 as he hit .251/.316/.325. As that slash line shows, he did not do much with those pitches as 70 of his 98 base hits were singles. So far this second half, he is doing better with those pitches with an early slash line of .444/.500/.519. The biggest change with him is that he is hitting those pitches where they are pitched rather than trying to pull them.

His spray charts from the struggling days show many groundballs to the right side which is the product of a hitter trying to pull a pitch on the outer half of the plate rather than taking it the other way. During this run of success, Ackley has sprayed most of his batted balls up the middle and the other way while rolling over on those pitches just twice so far.

The same patience that management was cursing with Ackley has actually helped him so far. His walk rate on those outside fastballs is up four full percentage points while he has reduced his strikeout rate two full percentage points. Where he was once swinging and missing 16 percent of the time on outside fastballs, he is currently doing so just eight percent of the time and driving those balls with authority rather than hitting lazy flyball outs.

This plate appearance is a good demonstration of what he is doing in recent weeks:

In terms of his stance or his hands, nothing is demonstrably different in recent weeks than it was two months ago. The approach appears different as he is hitting striking the ball with more authority these days as he is showing success long forgotten by his fantasy owners and most Mariners fans. Maybe it is the increased use of pine tar and the switch from the dark bats, but Ackley is definitely helping fantasy owners in the batting average category here down the stretch. I flipped Nick Markakis to acquire Ackley over the weekend in a league where the batting average category is hotly contested so playing the hot hand could pay off very well.

Talent, once displayed, can always resurface. Ackley was not the second overall pick for nothing and the skills that the Mariners liked when they scouted him at the University of North Carolina are peeking back up now. Ackley is also an interesting add for keeper league players because he retains his second-base eligibility for 2014, while his days of playing on the middle infield are likely over as long as he remains with the Mariners.