Dustin Ackley’s Deal

The Mariners finally called up second baseman Dustin Ackley last Friday, who could legitimately be their third best hitter right now.  With a guy who has ripped up every level of the minors and the Arizona Fall League, why would the Ms wait until June to call him up? A little something called the Super Two exception.

To summarize, players generally become eligible for salary arbitration—which means much higher salaries than teams were paying them—after either two or three years at the big league level. The discrepancy comes in when a player is called up midway through the season, and then plays 2+ years for that team. Did he play two years, or three? Ackley is in this boat right now. If the Ms had called their top prospect up at the start of the year, he would be eligible for arbitration (bigger money) at the end of the 2013 season. If, however, Ackley does not accumulate enough playing time in his first three seasons to be in the top 17% of players in his “call-up” class, then he won’t hit arbitration until 2014. In other words, by waiting until June the Ms will get 3+ seasons of Ackley instead of 2+ seasons of Ackley before they have to start paying him the big bucks. The difference between a player’s first contract, and his salary arbitration contract is generally large. Here are some examples.

In Ryan Howard’s final season before arbitration with the Phillies, he made $900K—K as in thousand. In his next season, he made $10M—M as in million. In terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Howard was virtually the same player in 2008 as he was in 2007, but was paid nine million dollars more.

Tim Lincecum won two Cy Youngs for the Giants for a two-year total of $1.1M. This season he will make 9 million dollars.

The difference between a player’s first contract and what he makes a few years later after arbitration is obviously greater in the case of super stars. But even without knowing what Ackley will become, knowing that he could be really good is enough to try and sneak in as many partial and full seasons as possible before the Ms have to start paying him the big bucks. Even Chone Figgins jumped from 400 thousand to 2.25 million dollars when he hit arbitration. So if Ackley tears it up in the next couple seasons, the Ms could save millions of dollars. If he’s average, they could save millions of dollars. Seems to me like it was a smart move to wait to call him up.

As for his abilities as a player, he’s pretty damn good. Many top prospects never meet the hype’s expectations. Players that look like 5-tool athletes with the ability to be the next Griffey or A-rod crumble, and scouts are left to wonder why. New stats can help some with projecting players. It is known that certain indicators tend to be more important when analyzing young talent in small sample sizes.  Stats that “stabilize” quickly without as much variance give us early signals that a player might stay a while in the big leagues. Swing tendencies, walk rates, strikeout rates, power and speed are all things that show up in the stats relatively soon with small amounts of data. Ackley just so happens to show some of these important indicators.

Since being drafted out of North Carolina in 2010, Ackley has accumulated 918 plate appearances between AA and AAA. Over that time, he walked 130 times versus striking out just 117 times. The average major league player strikes out twice as much as he walks, so even with an adjustment period to the majors, Ackley could still exhibit strikeout-to-walk rates as a rookie that rival some of the more established patient hitters in the game. Since walks and strikeouts are basically the product of a one-on-one showdown, there is less chance for variability in the results. Hits, for instance, are not only the product of the batter-pitcher matchup, but also the ball park, the defense, the sun in an outfielder’s eye, the lip of the infield grass, etc. Not that walks are more important than hits, but they are easier to project into the future. Ackley has shown rare patience and the ability to avoid striking out since his first days as a professional baseball player, and that is a very, very good thing for a team that struggles to get on base.

What he hasn’t shown yet is homerun power. In those 918 plate appearances, he has just 16 homeruns but 50 doubles. His ISO power—the difference between his slugging percentage and average—over those two seasons has been 0.155, but an improved 0.184 in Tacoma this season. ISO power is a simple way of measuring a player’s extra-base hit ability. Considering the Pacific Coast League (Tacoma’s AAA league) has a collective 0.164 ISO, and the Mariners are at 0.114, you can see why Ackley could quickly become one of the M’s best hitters as a rookie, and for years to come.

I’ll leave you with some stats:

2011

Ackley

PCL

Mariners

BB%

16.6%

9.5%

8.6%

SO%

11.5%

17.7%

18.8%

ISO

0.184

0.163

0.114

Ackley wins. Hands down. Go Ms 🙂

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One Response to Dustin Ackley’s Deal

  1. Whoopers and Hoopers…

    […]Dustin Ackley’s Deal « Reading into the Numbers[…]…

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