For the second time in less than a week, the Mariners demoted an underperforming young hitter whom they expected to be a part of their core as they rebuild. On Monday, they sent second baseman Dustin Ackley to Triple-A Tacoma, where he'll join the recently demoted Jesus Montero.
While manager Eric Wedge suggested that the 25-year-old Ackley's troubles were primarily mental, he deflected some of the blame onto a familiar scapegoat:
From the MLB.com article:
Wedge... intimated that Ackley might have been too concerned with pitch selectivity and high on-base percentage, leading to a one-liner that hit on one of baseball's most intriguing ongoing philosophical battles.
"It's the new generation. It's all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term, you know what I mean?" Wedge said. "People who haven't played since they were 9 years old think they have it figured out. It gets in these kids' heads."
Either Wedge was taking aim at the Mariners' analytics department, which has already lost influence inside the organization of a team that's en route to its fourth straight losing season and eighth in 10 years, or he was avoiding implicating first-year hitting coach Dave Hansen by instead blaming bloggers. Judging from the tenor of the manager's comments, you'd think that Ackley insisted upon taking an iPad to the plate to read FanGraphs and U.S.S. Mariner in lieu of swinging at pitches. Never mind that his walk rate is actually the lowest of his career, as Dave Cameron pointed out, adding that it's Ackley's continued failure to swing at strikes on the outer half of the plate — a more aggressive approach rather than a more passive one of the type often misattributed to sabermetric thinking — that's at the root of his problems.
The overall number two pick of the 2009 draft out of the University of North Carolina, Ackley ranked among Baseball America's top dozen prospects in the game in each of the following two seasons. He debuted in the majors on June 17, 2011, and hit a promising .273/.348/.417 in 90 games, but he fell off considerably in 2012 (.226/.294/.328), and was off to an even worse start this year (.205/.266/.250). He's not the only highly regarded young hitter to fall flat on his face in Seattle; Montero (.252/.293/.377 in 2012-2013), Justin Smoak (.229/.310/.378 since being acquired in mid-2010) and Michael Saunders (.219/.283/.366 since 2009) have ranked high on Baseball America's lists in years past and yet have failed to produce at acceptable levels for the Mariners.
Perhaps the problem is the leadership of the organization, starting with general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has been in place since October 2008. The Mariners won 85 games the following year, but overall, their .443 winning percentage since he was hired is in a virtual tie with the Indians for fourth-worst in the majors, ahead of only the Pirates (.431), Royals (.425) and Astros (.395). Wedge has compiled just a .437 winning percentage in two-plus seasons on the job while doing self-defeating things like batting free agent bust Chone Figgins at leadoff, a past-prime Ichiro Suzuki third and/or a washed up Adam Kennedy cleanup. Baseball writer Chris Jaffe (no relation) has determined that Wedge's teams have been around 30 games worse than their Pythagorean winning percentage over the course of his career, one of the worst records in modern managerial history.
While Ackley tries to alter his approach at Tacoma, the second base spot will go to Nick Franklin, a 22-year-old who was the team's first-round pick out of a Florida high school in 2009. Franklin hit .278/.347/.453 with 11 homers and 12 steals last year split between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma, and was off to a hot start (.324/.440/ .472) at the latter stop this year. He came into the season ranked 79th on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list. No word yet on whether Wedge blamed sabermetrics for Franklin drawing a walk in his lone plate appearance during his major league debut on Monday.