Dustin Ackley and Brandon Maurer: Not Bad, For Now

About a month ago, Dustin Ackley and Brandon Maurer almost simultaneously made U-turns in their performances on the field. Dustin Ackley has largely been a disappointment since being drafted in 2009, as he was considered a can’t miss prospect.  He was supposed to “fall out of bed and hit .300.” Dustin Ackley has fallen out of bed plenty of times, and I can assure you he has never hit .300. But seriously. Do you see those quotes? Someone said that! Ackley was arguably rushed to the majors and enjoyed an encouraging 2011 rookie season. Following that season, Ackley has been below average and has bounced around from second base to left field-center field-first base-utility-second base-not-really-having-a-position before ultimately settling in left field. Maurer didn’t have nearly as lofty expectations as Ackley, although he was said to have frontline potential. Somewhere along the way, those expectations increased.

Maurer is a peculiar story. At first, the Mariners boasted a “Big Three” consisting of highly regarded prospects Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen. Upon Brandon Maurer’s surprising Spring Training performance, people began referring to the foursome as the Big Four, as well as the Fantastic Four. The most creative of names, right? Even though Spring Training performances aren’t really correlated with regular season performance, you can’t really blame them. Upon playing in real games that mattered, Maurer struggled against just about everyone. Maurer was sent down to Tacoma in favor of OH MY GOD ALEX LIDDI. This year, Brandon Maurer looked like more of the same. It became commonplace that Maurer would cruise, up until the fifth or sixth inning. At that point, he would unravel and give up a metric shit ton of two strike hits, Hector Noesi style. Whether it be his repertoire or mindset, he just could not seem to make it past the lineup more than a couple times. As a reliever, Brandon Maurer has realized a new identity. His mentality or psyche or attitude or swagger or whatever is mind blowing. He doesn’t even look like the same person. Probably because he won’t cut his hair or facial hair. Anyways, he looks cocky and confident and he’s pitching well.  He also drew this scary staredown from David Ortiz. Since June 25th, also known as the day he first pitched as a reliever, Brandon Maurer has a 0.00 ERA, 1.28 FIP, and 2.37 xFIP (excluding today’s game). He’s been nuts, and in a good way. Mostly because I don’t know how you can be nuts in a bad way. Today he finally gave up a run, and then the human potato came in and blew the game by giving up a double to Adam Jones (sad face) and walking a pair of batters. It took Maurer more than 15 innings as a reliever to give up his first run and I don’t see him losing any of this momentum soon.

In June, Dustin Ackley hit .165/.233/.215 with an abysmal .209 wOBA and 28 wRC+. This July, he’s slashing .358/.377/.478 with a .375 wOBA and 143 wRC+. Shit, he even made this play. His routes to the ball are at times questionable and he doesn’t make it look pretty all the time, but he’s improved his play in left field dramatically ever since Lloyd McClendon stationed Ackley in left field for good. He’s turned into a very capable left fielder. That is reflected in his 1.0 WAR. He might still have a noodle for an arm, but things could be a lot worse. Shit, things were very recently a lot worse. We had Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez both play in the outfield for us last year. Sometimes concurrently! So yes, things could probably be worse than you might imagine. In interviews, Ackley has mentioned that he never felt his mechanics were messed up, but that his timing was just a tick off. What he’s saying makes sense. His peripherals since his rookie year have gotten better while he’s gotten worse. Earlier in the season, McClendon displayed some hesitation to put Ackley in the top of the order because he felt it would assist his development. Now Lloyd feels Ackley is ready for it because Ackley feels he’s ready for it. This all occurred due to Endy Chavez jamming his right finger and being a late scratch for the game. (Thank you, Endy Chavez!) In the beginning of the season, I was an advocate of batting Brad Miller or Dustin Ackley leadoff or in the two hole because I felt they both had the tools to get on base and hit balls to the gaps. Since, both haven’t put up consistent production throughout the season but they have shown the ability in spurts. At some point, we may see Ackley’s productivity come to a halt due to his .429 BABIP so far in July, but it definitely won’t be as bad as June due to his .197 BABIP last month. For the time being, we’ll enjoy Dustin Ackley because this is who Dustin Ackley should have been. Home run robbing, ball hitting, interview giving Dustin Ackley, dammit! Today was his sixth 3-hit game this season, and the fourth just in July and his sixth multi-hit game in the last 10 games. Dustin Ackley is fun right now. He even smiled in an interview last night. Crazy, right?

It isn’t as if Dustin Ackley hasn’t gone through a hot streak before. He has. However, what is encouraging about this streak is that he’s spraying balls away from him to opposite field (as shown in the graphic below). He has a tendency to get pull happy and roll over on balls, and lately he’s done very little of that.

AckleyHeatMap

 

Throughout his career, Dustin Ackley has suffered from something referred to as the “lefty strike.” The lefty strike is the phenomenon in which the outer half of the plate is extended and outside balls (versus lefty batters) are called strikes by umpires more often so than outside pitches against righties. Why is this? I don’t know. No one knows, and it sucks. Ackley especially has fallen susceptible to it. Because of his ability to discern a ball from a strike, he knows how to take an outside ball. Problem is, it’s a strike in many umpires’ eyes. Pitchers pitch outside to many lefties a lot as it is, but they really pound the outer half of the plate and the lefty strike zone as you can see below. Typically what happens is Ackley is in a something-and-two count, takes a lefty strike pitch, turns around looking absolutely bewildered and then trudges back to the dugout passively while hanging his head. He doesn’t do it exactly like that here, but I can assure you, it happens. Pitchers know this about Ackley from his scouting report, and as you can see below, the pound that area and take advantage of it. DustinAckleyHeatMap

 

I’m not going to come out and say either of these players are fixed. To play devil’s advocate, you could once again reference Dustin Ackley’s BABIP and say he’s just getting lucky and going through a nice little hot streak. In regards to Brandon Maurer, it could just be that he’s pitching in low leverage situations. Whatever the true answer is, Ackley and Maurer both have looked promising for the past month. In the end, I’m hopeful that Ackley can be a Ben Zobrist or Nick Markakis and that Maurer can end up in the rotation once and for all. They both have the talent and tools to do it, they just need to put it together. Whatever. That was cliche. I want the Dustin Ackley and Brandon Maurer to be good just as I want the Mariners to be good. I’m more invested in Ackley because I have his goddamn authentic jersey. Teams have inquired about Ackley and I’m sure they’ve inquired about Maurer. Shit, the Mariners offered Dustin Ackley for Jason Castro just recently. What the Mariners shouldn’t do is trade either of the pair when their value is diluted. Ackley is still trying to figure it out and Maurer is a reliever. For as volatile as relievers are, Maurer still has the repertoire to get a shot there again, and maybe as soon as this season. For the time being, I’m going to sit back and relax and wait for some reinforcements to come before the trade deadline.

 

 

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