Age 25, 26 Breakouts
Post-hype sleeper syndrome


That Ackley has disappointed, has failed to land with a Mike Trout splash, is a given.

That he could stop disappointing, as an Age-26* Post-Hype Sleeper, is also a given.  Any Mariner fan should be able to decipher the fact that Ackley has special talent, talent far in excess of Kyle Seager's, for example. 

He's had 1,471 plate appearances in the majors now.  Carlos Guillen (also developed in the Mariner system) had 1,665 before his OPS+ leaped from nowhere to 143 and MVP territory.  Here is a partial list of hitters who went from "mediocre" to "franchise hitters" at about 1,000 to 1,600 MLB plate appearances:

  • Carlos Guillen
  • Carlos Delgado
  • Edgardo Alfonzo
  • Edgar Renteria
  • Tony Perez
  • Asdrubal Cabrera ... hang on, these guys are all Latin so far.  Let's mix it up
  • Bobby Bonilla
  • Gregg Jeffries
  • Troy Tulowitzki
  • Tony Clark
  • Derek Jeter
  • Bobby Higginson
  • Andre Dawson
  • Mike Sweeney
  • etc etc etc

These are ALL guys who had SEVERAL seasons in the majors sporting OPS+ of 80 to 105, before they jelled as franchise players.


"Breakout seasons" are problematic to "study," yes.  But breakouts do happen:  many MLB stars, hitters with 140 OPS+ skills DID spend years at 80-100, learning their games.  I don't think that anybody denies this general syndrome, the "Post-Hype Sleeper" syndrome.  We know for a fact that star hitters often leap 40 OPS+ points in 1 offseason, rather than getting them 10 points per season.

So, when do breakout seasons happen?  It's self-evident that many hitters need about two, three full years to "get it."  It doesn't happen as often in year 2, you wouldn't think.  And you KNOW it doesn't happen at age 31.

The age-24, -25, -26 bustout is still a roto principle worth tracking.  Especially when you've got a pedigree like Smoak's or Ackley's.

It's hard for people to even remember that Troy Tulowitzki had an 85 OPS+ in his third year.  Or that Derek Jeter, for his first 1,200 at-bats, looked pretty much like Dustin Ackley has looked.  If Ackley goes on to hit .320 with 45 doubles and 80 walks, people won't remember his early years, either.


This isn't a Seattle blog-o-sphere issue.  Baseball, as an industry, feels like Zduriencik's kids should be playing well -- that there's something wrong with his development system, if they don't.  We're not talking about a local perspective here.


Ackley will not only be age 26, but he'll be moving to an easier defensive position he'll be moving to the easiest defensive position on the diamond.  That gives a major increase in his odds to jell at age 26.


His breakout isn't guaranteed.  We know, LrKrBoi29, we know.  That's the very nature of the Post-Hype advantage:  the losers have gotten bored waiting.


Dr D





I'm absolutely sure that Mac's refusal to give Ackley a CF look is precisely because he wanted to give him the most simple assignment he could: "Just hit kid!"
There's some wisdom there. Also, I will point out the obvious, that everybody is a agog about Ackley's HR. Good deal. BTW, it ws to the right side of CF, not quite dead center. And I've always said that Ackley's breakout (if it came) wouldn't be driven by opposite field singles, but by doubles to the RF gap. There ahs been a blogging bias against his pulling the ball. Not me. I want to see him use the CF to RF area. Those same wrists that you mentioned mean he can rope the ball into that area. I hope we see more of it.

Lonnie of MC's picture

... I think that the level of defense that Ackley showed in center last year may have played a part in it. Speaking strictly from a defensive standpoint, CF is too critical to have it manned by a weak-armed player with extremely limited experience at the position.
Personally, I don't care where Ackley plays as long as his hypothetical hit-tool actually makes a showing. I am very close to declaring him a bust, but I still hold out some hope.


Ditto on the near bust label. Ditto on still holding out hope.
I'm rooting for him. I haven't laid all my money on the Ackley bet yet.

GLS's picture

I wouldn't call him a bust at all. Maybe not the franchise player we were hoping for (yet), but even when he's struggled at the plate, he's brought enough in terms of overall baseball skills and positional value to be a net positive on the field.


I'm on board with the age 25-26 breakout philosophy in this case.  It really DOES happen with talented players who just needed time to gel their processes.
I've always said Ackley was on a Gordon timeline once he started struggling. When Alex Gordon was drafted, his adjustment period took longer than most people wanted or expected, but he came around (once moved to an easier defensive position).  I still expect Ackley to come around. How far around? Well, here's how far Gordon came:
Alex Gordon, WAR 1st four years (~1600 PAs): 4.6
Alex Gordon, WAR last three years (~2100 PAs): EIGHTEEN
Ackley, WAR 1st four years (~1350 PASs) 7.6
Ackley has actually been better than Gordon's first few years, WAR-wise, because of his continued play at 2B.  At the plate it's a little different story (.670 OPS vs .Alex's .720ish for those first years), but you'd think that Gordon's power would be the difference in their pro careers, especially based on certain minor league power #s.
Dustin's AAA numbers (600 PAs): .303/.401/.472/.873
Alex's AAA numbers (400 PAs): .315/.441/.560/1.000
That .170 ISO for Ackley looks about right based on his skills (even tho he hasn't hit it yet), but Gordon's .245 minor league ISO has not proven out (his career major-league iso is, guess what, about .170 - his best year was .199).
Keep in mind, though, Gordon's 18 WAR over 3 seasons is in left field.  That's how much credit he's being given as a tremendous fielder for that position, because his hitting numbers are good but only one year is spectacular. He's popping as a 40 2B/20 HR man per 162, even with his advances at the plate.  Kyle Seager is a 35/20 man, and Dustin is probably a 40/15 when he's right.  With as fast as he is there is no reason for him to be standing on first with a ball hit to the gap - he just forgot how to find the gap until the second half of last year.
Will he remember this year?  I think so.  He's gonna remember at some point.  If he doesn't, well, he'll play another 8-10 years at 2B for somebody then, with his 90-100 OPS+ netting him plus WAR figures every year. Gabe Kapler got 3300 PAs posting a .270/.330/.420 line in LF. Ackley's not gonna stay as a .250/.320/.350 hitter forever.
TL:DR version - Even after watching Ackley's abominable performances for much of 2012 and 13, I don't see why he can't do what Alex Gordon is doing. Gordon got 6+ WAR for his 2012 year, posting a .300/.370/.450 line in LF and playing good defense. Ackley has more of a noodle arm, but not enough to make a huge difference from there.
I've thought Ackley would have a Mark Grace-like career. I still think he'll be posting those kinds of seasons sooner or later. It's hard to be THAT talented and stay broken your whole career. Let's hope it's sooner - like, say, this year.


Off-topic from Ackley, specifically, but I've always wondered... Where the bejeebus does this entire idea that CFs "need" an arm to be valid. I can run off a list a mile long of good, great, and generationally defining CFers who all were noodle arms. Everyone from Johnny Damon (okay-to-good), to Bernie Williams (great-to-amazing) and Kenny Lofton (generationally defining) in their primes.
You run through the list of guys that stick in CF, you do find some good arms, but most are in the okay range and there are many, many more poor arms than good (let alone very good or great). It just always seems to that "arm to weak for CF" is some kind of jargon to say the guy not only has a bad arm, but even though "should" be able to run the ball down, he has such horrible reads that he embarrasses himself. That's the way it was with guys like Pierre, Winn, and now Ackley. These guys aren't really considered bad CF because of their arms. It's because they can't read a fly ball well enough.
Heck, you go through the ArmR values on Fangraphs and you'd see that a lot of LF rate out higher than most CF. Most CF from the last 3 years score in the red and there's a lot more -10 Arm and +10 Range guys than +10 Arm and -10 Range guys.


Is that the opposite is never true.  Guys who are mediocre in the minors (when they're at their age-appropriate levels) do not go on to be successful in the majors.
So if you're looking for the bust-out-at-26 guys, look for guys who were very good in the minors before age 23 (unless there's a reason for being late -- injury or football), because those are the ones who bust out.
We know that's the pool of candidates, but we just don't know which ones from that pool will actually bust out.
In my mind, Casper Wells was never in the pool of candidates, but Dustin Ackley absolutely is.

muddyfrogwater's picture

The awesome thing? We're sitting on a nice little clutch of those player types. The next couple of years will bring Zunino and Miller. You just keep reloading through free agency and the draft. It'll come our way eventually. Probability would suggest that we're due for a 23 yr. old to make a splash. Patients I suppose.

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