Ackley's Debut Game: unveiling the HR swing

... and, it sez here, probably immediate production from Mr. Ackley.  

Can't guarantee 15 homers here to the wire in 2011, though it wouldn't surprise.  But Ackley definitely projects as a .300/.400/.500 hitter.  There is no question about it.


Q.  Why do you say, about the power?

A.  Let's start with this pic:

It's just a tad grainy :- ) but .... imagine if the end of Ackley's bat were painted white, like the sights on a target pistol.  Roy Oswalt would be able to see the entire white circle, although the ball is over halfway to home plate.  

And note carefully:  this particular screen grab does not do full justice to Ackley's bat wrap and wrist hinge.  I couldn't get a grab that did.

Show me any hitter in the majors with a longer swing than Dustin Ackley's.


Q.  Power is generated from a long swing?

A.  No, not only.

In the Nick Franklin breakdown, we talked about hitters who "stretch the rubber band" by taking long, smooth strides with their front feet ... while simultaneously pushing their hands back to the catcher. didn't have a side shot of Ackley, as they did on TV, so Nick Franklin's prep will have to serve:


Be Afraid.  Be Very Afraid,

Dr D



ghost's picture

Ackley looked absolutely serene as he walked to the plate to that standing ovation in the 2nd inning.  The crowd gave him a HERO'S WELCOME and he had no emotion on his face whatsoever (apart, perhaps, from a bit of a stunned look for a second or two).  After strike two in that first AB..the BS rookie call that aaroused a chorus of boos from the fans...he had that stunned look again...for two or three seconds and aimed at the home plate umpire (Eddings, BTW has the most inconsistent strike zone in major league baseball...and it usually biases in favor of the pitchers, as his career 90 umpire factor will attest)...and then he calmly turned and faced Oswalt again.  After the base hit, he jogged to first, shook the coach's hand...and...didn't even crack a smile.  The dude was ROBOTIC up there. a kid who's going to have ZERO transition time...ZERO statistical butterflies...and ZERO problem facing and adjusting to any adversity.  As you note, Doc, his game is among the most flexible and dangerous offensive games around, so there isn't going to be one way to pitch to him...which...with his eye...means you can pencil in that .400 OBP starting TODAY.  Not to mention add some nice pop.

paracorto's picture

"Ackley definitely projects as a .300/.400/.500 hitter.  There is no question about it."
That's a big commitment. I'd wait three months in the majors before making such a superstar statement since there're some questions still to answer (how vs LHP, how when opp pitchers will learn how to work him, how his ability to draw so many walks at major league level, how he will react after going deep in the count and suddenly facing a nasty third strike instead). And you should forgive me, I'm not yet sold with his hitting mechanics. If it's true not everybody is Roy Oswalt there're also top of the rotation starters and unhittable closers. I ask just more time.


Doc, no kidding...Last night I actually had the thought that he looked like a Branyan-morph-Ichiro. (Branyan because of the wrap and Ichiro because he stays on the ball so exceptionally well).  But The Thrill is a better comparison. Bonus pints to you.
I think the most impressive thing I saw him do with the bat was foul off the first 0-2 pitch he saw in his first AB.  Man, that ball was by him, nearly in the mitt...and he still wasted it.
It was a wicked pitch.  He kept the AB alive.  And on that pitch and on the following one, the single, his finished looked eerily Ichiro-like.
In the modern game, most batters are taught to have a wider stance, use a piston-like up-down front-foot movement that triggers an explosion of the hips. Or something like that.
There was a classic throwback sense to Ackley's slide/glide-move to the ball. 
Will Clark certainly.  Musial-like?  Maybe.
S-I-L-K-Y   S-M-O-O-T-H?  Undeniably! 
I don't think Hank Aaron had as much bat wrap...but he had that same smooth slide.
Not saying, of course, that Ackley is The Man or The Hammer.  He isn't, of course.  Hey, those guys are arguable two of the 5 greatest hitters in the history of the game....but he sure slides/glides into the ball in a way that reminds me of them.
Betcha dollars to donuts that tonight we see Kennedy at 3B and Carp + Halman, as well.
Ackley?  Needless to say, I am quite smitten.


"I don't know what they're teaching these kids in the minors, but you get Pineda and Ack (Ackley), these guys they all come up, they have really good poise,'' Ryan said. "I know on my first day, I was a mess. So, they're both very calm and act like they've been here before, which has got to be nice to see if you're a manager.'' 

ghost's picture

paracorto...I can certainly appreciate (normally) restraint on questions of projecting a player based on one good looking game...but there are occasions where one game will do.  If Doc's analysis were right (and I'm not saynig he's always right/perfect...though in this case I agree with him re: Ackley's hitting), though, you saw everything you needed to know to answer all of your questions by the end of the first at bat.
a) How will he fair against lefties?
 - The facts that his swing is so adjustable, that he always has his head down on the ball, and that he transfers his weight in a butter-smooth manner rather akin to Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn (when young) means he can adjust to picking up the ball slightly later.  His .299/.412/.505 batting line in AAA attests to this.
b) Will major league pitchers learn how to work him in such a way as to exploit his weaknesses?
 - What weaknesses would those be?  The only thing I can think might be a bugger for him woudl be the ball up and in.  If the pitchers have throw the ball into a teacup-sized region at the top and inside part of the strike zone to foil his type of mechanics, I don't see how that can be converted into a reliable game to get him out.  Did pitchers ever learn to book Ichiro?  He has Ichiro's ability to cover pitches that fool him...
c) Will he still draw walks at the big league level?
 - As soon as the umps realize he knows the strikezone, he'll draw walks.  In this one game, he swung at almost every legitimate strike and took every single pitch that should have been called a ball.  His strikezone judgment is completely above reproach.
d) How will he hit in deep counts?
 - It's axiomatic that all hitters with perfect strikezone judgment are at the mercy of fair umpiring if they won't expand the zone...Ackley, when comfortable, will not be expanding the zone.  If the ump isn't an idiot or unfair, he'll only be swinging at the strikes with deep counts, so he'll either be walking or getting some pitches to put in play...he'll do fine in deep counts.
e) How will he hit closers and true aces?
Does any great major league hitter stand above this concern?  No they do not.  Great pitching beats great hitting - period.  If he has trouble hitting Mariano Rivera, then he'll join the ranks of just about every other great hitter the game has ever seen. :)


busted me up watching it.  That little, "what in the world were YOU lookin' at...wait, I'm the rookie.  Right.  Okay. 'Strike' two then..." glance. *laughs*
Smoak is legit.  Ackley was ALWAYS legit, and his whip-quick bat is gonna drive em over the fence in RF.  I called him "Olerud with wheels" in college, though they get there different ways.  Ole was 6'5.  He had leverage and perfect bat control, even though his bat wasn't especially fast, and he picked the ball up early so he had plenty of time to swing.
Ackley whips the bat.  He does have some Ichiro in him, that "I'm okay with going the other way with a sharp grounder for a single" mentality, or the fighting off pitches with late flicks of the wrist.  But he ALSO has great zone judgment and is willing not to swing at a pitch.  And as Junior said, "I've never lifted a weight in my life, so I don't hit home runs the way Big Mac does.  I use a light bat and lots of batspeed to golf the ball out of the park instead of muscle it."  Or something to that effect.
Ackley's a golfer who can drive the ball deep with that whip-fast judgment.  He'll be a lot like Gar when Gar said, "Fastball, inner half?  Really?" And clubbed it.
I don't expect Utley's 30 HRs.  but 15-25?  Yeah.  Add in 40+ doubles for his speed and shots down the line and the number of walks I expect and that's quite a player.  At 2nd base?  Wow - even if his decent performance there is "unconventional" until he gets more reps.
The Justin and Dustin show is starting.  Add King and Kong to that and we've got the makings of a VERY interesting next few years.
And this year, too. ;)
Hopefully it's a better-outcome version of the Twins and their Morneau-Mauer-Santana-Liriano build.

OBF's picture

I am definitely NOT a swing mechanics aficionado like some of the others here, so this is more of a question than an observation, but does Ackley have a swing that imparts backspin to the ball or topspin?
With all the talk about how the best hitting approach in Safeco is to impart top spin (Rauuuuul, AK, etc.)  I was given a little bit of pause when watching Ackley's two flyball swings last night, it sure looked like to me that he imparted a bunch of backspin.  One of them was just a lazy can o' corn, but one of them I was thinking double off the bat and looked like by his start out of the box so was Ackley, but Victorino easily glided over and made the catch.  So was that just normal Safeco wet air effect or was there a bunch of backspin on the ball that made it hold up?
It would only be one small chink in his armor, but what do you guys think about Ackley's spin?

Taro's picture

I think Ackley will hit immediately and draw walks, but the power will come later.
Hes had a pattern of struggling for a month everytime hes been promoted, but normally his player types transition very quickly.


If one can look maliciously serene.  I suppose the lady in MIB II did. 
If anybody were to come up *looking* like he was going to need little or no transition time, this is what it would look like bro'....
When the house opines 300/400/500 in fairly short order, we do ask for the vigorish of "Safeco adjusted."  
BP doesn't publish its Davenport Translations, so am not sure what 300/400/500 looks like in Safeco...


Whereas other folks wait for Michael Pineda to make the All-Star game, and then tell you he's great.  ... SSI's gig is tomorrow's news today ;- )
Your caution is reasonable, Paracorto.  Anybody who wants to wait-and-see first gets no flak from Dr. D's mainframe.


No guarantees in baseball, and no guarantee that Ackley will light 'em up in this, or any particular, month.
Even supposing he were the best hitter in baseball, he would be subject to the prevailing winds.  We ain't counting our early-hatching .400 OBP chickens with Ackley, or with Mark Teixeira for that matter...


The Thrill reminded, just because of the AstroGlide setup to the pitch, the upright prep, and the up-down bat wag.
But Branyan's bat launch is better.  
Amazing that we connected on this 1/2 and 1/2 morph point Moe.
Did you read Baker's blog before your lineup prediction?!  And do the M's have, in effect, nine 100 OPS+ hitters in there tonight?


Pineda and Ackley realize that they're homo superioris, rather than homo sapiens...
Why Peguero, Halman, and Carp should also come up with such poise, that is a mystery... their futures are on the line...
The manager at AAA get credit?  Or what's going on?  At any rate, it means that the M's need not hesitate when going to the Tacoma well this year...


Questions will exist for any hitter until he has reassured the crowd with a backlog of base hits...
SSI's gig is flying by its instruments, not its instincts, and it is mondo fun to attempt the wingless flight :- )
Point (d), John Olerud spent his career shuffling away from the batter's box on blown strike three's....
Ichiro on the other hand shows his disgust with the umps by fouling off close pitches with two strikes... as did Wade Boggs... taking the walks on pitches farther off the zone...
Guess here is that Ackley will tend more to the latter...


The miracle occurs when guys like Junior, Ichiro and Ackley get to the ball quickly, despite the 1-woods they carry... otherwise there would be a lot of people doing it...
The second miracle occurs when folks wonder about Ackley's power... how can you see the swing, the UNC power, the Cheney power, and still project singles hitter... 
Actually pretty striking, the parallels to Mauer/Morneau/Santana/Liriano.  Morneau and Smoak are comp pairs; Ackley is the smooth OBP pro at a glove position.
One comforting difference:  Liriano never really got rolling with Santana in the same season.  Even so, the Twins made the playoffs 6 times in the 00's :- )


If only because it could take awhile to start anticipating the tater pitches.
Reminds of Junior in 1989-1990.  He intelligently dialed down his game to an appropriate ambition, as did Ackley last night...  
Still and all, Junior hit like 16 and 20 homers those years, just through sheer natural power and talent... pitchers do make mistakes...
Not sure whether it's an Ackley trait to need time to assimilate new leagues .... he DID need time to adjust to the wood bat, and DID need a month to get his swing timing down in 2011, it seemed...  true also that he didn't hit AAA running, but not sure that's the new league; could be his own personal development...
On the other hand, you have the AFL, you have Ackley's first year at UNC, and Ackley in ST this year...
Last night's player looked like Ichiro 2001, a hitter whose game reacts well to ANY incoming pitches...
Or not... on this one we'll have to see...


As Edgar, Boone, Teixeira, Vlad, and Branyan weren't... them also being great Safeco hitters.
The two fly balls to CF definitely floated in the air.  
My own take on the first one:  Ackley's CG was going in a different direction, and then he folded over to square up a pitch far outside his leverage area...
Had it been Ichiro, we'd have seen a one-handed soft liner or crisp grounder to LF.   Had it been a mortal, we'd have seen a swing and miss.  It being Ackley, he squared up a hellacious low-away change and socked a surprisingly deep fly ball up the middle.
Ackley basically squared up 4-for-4 pitchers' pitches, defensive swings on all of them, and the fact that they didn't jump off his bat (except the yakker smoked down to Ryan Howard) was a testimony to the quality of the pitches...
Ichiro doesn't float the ball around Safeco and, on the single and the hot shot to Howard, Ackley also got nicely on top of the ball...
That said, Ackley has his limitations, is not a big guy, and when he arm-swings a tough pitch into the air, he's going to make some outs...

paracorto's picture

I 'm sincerely intrigued by Ackley and his swing which is someway unhortodox (see moethedog remarks above that I find appropriate). I always appreciated hitters like that because they always find a way to get on base even if they do not have a text book swing like Molitor. Usually they are unpredictable and that's a very important trait if your're not Barry Bonds. The fact is that I followed carefully Ackley career in the minors and I'm not sure how his past lows and highs (because he had lows and highs without any doubt) are going to work at mlb level. He's certainly a very good player and it would be hard to affirm he will not be a regular in the majors and I realize that the M's fans have been waiting for a "messia" from too much time but I just like to wait some more time before going into the hyperbole.


I said it way back last year after seeing him in Zebulon ... Ackley, if not a machine, is indeed a technician when it comes to hitting.
His eye will be there immediately ... umps will learn.
His contact will be solid initially ... but he's the kind of hitter who will improve against pitchers the more he sees them.  So, his average might not be apparent immediately ... but it should be the second item to show up.  I would be surprised if he hits .300 immediately.  I wouldn't be surprised if he hits .315 in September.
The power will be the last piece of the pie to arrive.  I would be surprised for him to get to 10 HRs *this year* in the Bigs, (though if he gets dialed in and runs hot for a month, he could jack 6 in a single month on a streak).
I think a reasonable expectation for his 3.5 months would be a line not terribly far off what Cust put up so far. 
I would expect in the off-season he is going to absolutely gobble up video on every at bat he had and in 2012 ... I don't expect it to take long for the power-doubters to go ... "where was THIS last year."
There's my prediction.  Now I hope he shreds it to pieces.


Did not read Baker. Responded to you pretty early this morning.  I'll have to look.  What did he say?

ghost's picture

Hey sure Ack is not a topspin hitter?  He sure seemed to get on top of a high fastball for Hamels and hit a mortar shot into RCF with it today...

dream catcher's picture

I love Ackley's approach at the plate.  I just wish he didn't get behind in the count so often, he seems to always watch the first pitch even if its right down the middle.  Is that part of his game, or is he just feeling out the pitcher?


Like Ichiro, he does a lot of different things with a pitch according to circumstance...
Raul and Kennedy come around and finish bats low with wrists rolling over, somehow avoiding topped GB's ...
Talk more... ta ta for now amigo...


Breaking him to the yoke...
Soon as they buy in to his (1) stardom and (2) lack of Milton Bradley-ness on close ones, he starts getting lotsa borderline pitches rather than getting jobbed on lotsa them...
Pitchers not being careful at the moment; they haven't bought in either... he may get two months' worth of HR's out of that one...


Just watching that ball come in calmly for a strike.  Of course, in an 0-1 count he was still a .900 OPS hitter, so it was 0-2 he tried to avoid.  But once a pitcher started piping 1st pitch strikes in there to get ahead, Gar would launch on first pitch to the tune of .384 average/.684 slugging.
The only time you EVER got the better end of the deal with Gar was 0-2/ 1-2/ 2-2, when he had to fend off strike 3 rather than crush your melon.
3-2?  He was back to being a crusher.
I expect Ackley to have similar splits.  I dunno if he can have Gar's impressive road/home or Lefty/Righty splits (ie, NONE), but Dustin has an impressive eye and as Doc says has made up his mind on out-of-the-zone pitches well before they get to the plate.
I've been saying since we drafted him that I wasn't worried about his power, especially for the position.  I think I should be able to take the positional value out of the equation shortly.  He crushed that HR every bit as far as Smoak has crushed some of his, but it got out faster and he was crouching forward doing it.
That bat speed translation is something else.  I think it would be interesting to have a lineup that allowed Ackley to hit #2, but realistically Ackley 3 and Smoak 4 works great for me, and we should be seeing it by year's end.
Start up the Dustin and Justin show for the next 5 years.  Should be highly entertaining.  Just get them a bit more offensive help, please. 

dream catcher's picture

I've been dreaming of a Ackley-Smoak-Fielder at the 2-3-4 for awhile. My only concern would be off the field. How much would we be willing to pay for a .300/.400.600 player that is 27?
but if we were able to get him? wow...


This has always been the biggest reason I've loved to follow Doc's writings.  Anybody can look backwards.  Looking forward is where the fun is.  I can still remember on the STATS boards in 1996 people telling us that we shouldn't annoint the Big Unit a HOF pitcher until he "proves it over time".  Where's the fun in that?
No one gets accolades for pointing the bleachers after they hit the home run.
Let the sportwriters be "objective".  I like being about the possibilities.
I like calling the Bedard trade a good trade and seeing it pan out.
I like telling anyone who would listen that Felix would almost help us forget the Big Unit (in a grieve-ending sort of way) when he was 17.  I didn't need him to win a Cy Young before calling that shot.  It makes watching the growth happen in front of you more spectactular.
I like telling people that Paul Spoljaric was going to be good.  Yeah, I (we) were wrong about that one (and a number of others), but so what?
I thought Mickey Brantley would be their first ever great center fielder.  Oops.
It took one game to know that Alvin Davis would have a dramatic impact.
This is a blog.  If I was a contributing writer or the main writer to it, if anywhere is a good place to be bold, this is it.  Otherwise it's just another Starbucks - they all look the same.

Taro's picture

Fielder would immediately solve this offense.
An Ichiro-Ackley-Smoak-Fielder 1-4 is drool worthy.
The Ms may still need to figure out LF and 3B, but those problems may solve themselves this year if any of these guys pan out.

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