BY Adam Lewis 11:50PM 05/29/2013

Mariners’ Wedge takes on stat geeks; apologizes

Shortly after the Mariners optioned Dustin Ackley to Triple-A Tacoma Monday, manager Eric Wedge made a joke while trying to explain away the second baseman’s big slump. The suddenly embattled manager instead turned himself into a media feeding frenzy — one engineered by a group of analysts who value advanced statistics more than the “human element” touted by baseball traditionalists.

So how can Ackley barely surpass the Mendoza line in 2013? The former No. 2 overall pick was hitting .205 with a .516 OPS in 45 games. Allow Wedge to explain.

“It’s the new generation,” Wedge told reporters. “It’s all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term, you know what I mean? People who haven’t played since they were nine years old think they have it all figured out. It gets in these kids’ heads.”

The comment started trending on Twitter and spiraled from there. USSMariner.com founder Dave Cameron captured the prevailing reaction from a disenfranchised fan base with this blog post that called for the skipper’s head.

Wedge’s remark was meant to convey his belief that Ackley became too preoccupied with drawing walks and increasing his on-base percentage, leading to a passive hitting approach. Ackley took too many pitches in the strike zone and, on the occasions he swung, mostly grounded out. Not a recipe for success.

But pinning his struggles on a “paralysis-by-analysis” theory only served to raise the decibel level of those who feel Wedge is in part responsible for the organization’s inability to take their Triple-A talent and help them thrive at the big league level. Cameron wasn’t the only writer to take a Mike Tyson-like right hook at Wedge. So damning was the response that Wedge chose to explain himself before Wednesday’s 3-2 extra-inning loss to the San Diego Padres.

“When I bust somebody’s chops or make a joke at it, you can take it in a light-hearted way or you can take it personally,” he told Greg Johns of MLB.com. “Quite frankly, I don’t care either way. But the fact of the matter is, sabermetrics is a part of the game of baseball. It has been for a while. It’s my job to see it from all ways.”

As it was his duty to protect a player whose confidence level flat-lined.

“What people have to see is these are human beings,” he said. “They are not widgets. It’s not XYZ corporation — something out of a book. These are human beings. And that’s the thing you have to factor in the most. They have emotions. They have families. You have ups and downs and everything that goes along with it. Things you can’t read on a piece of paper.

“But (statistical analysis) is most definitely part of it. I use it each and every day. It’s not the end-all. It’s not just black and white. It’s got to be a nice blend between the human factor and the numbers. You have to be able to go out there and motivate these guys and treat them as human beings as well. So for those who I offended, I’m sorry about that. One thing you have to have in this game is broad shoulders and a thick skin.”

An adequate back-of-the-rotation and a healthy lineup wouldn’t hurt either.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    I agree with Wedge in part. I do think at times some players focus on OBP so much that they get away from their natural game. Picture Junior trying to work a walk rather than doing what comes naturally. Especially back during his first run with the M’s. It would take away from his game. As much as at times the young players tend to go for the fences too much they also probably try to do the opposite as well. That balance will come with experience. They need to let the coaches worry about statistical analysis and just play their game.

  • Westside guy

    Well the silly thing is, Wedge basically was setting up a strawman and arguing against it. Over the last year I’ve seen a couple different “nerd” takes on Dustin Ackley – both of which thought he was too passive when it came to pitches in the strike zone. So the stat heads and old-school Wedge saw the same issues with the guy – but Wedge mischaracterized (or, more likely, just doesn’t understand) what those people who like to look at saber-stats are thinking.

    One of the things that’s been especially maddening about Ackley is his apparent refusal to adapt to what’s referred to as the “lefty strike zone” – several inches of space that is technically outside the strike zone, but where pitches get called as strikes with regularity against left-handed batters. All the umps do it; Ackley needs to adapt.

    • jafabian

      I think sabermetics is a bit overrated. It’s good for some teams like the A’s who can’t afford the big bats but isn’t needed for teams like the Yankees or Giants. Hate to say that the pitching coach needs to be looked at but that might be the case with the M’s.

    • Adam Lewis

      Great point Westside Guy. Ackley’s inability to adapt to what you referred to as the “lefty strike zone” is a product of a fundamental flaw in his swing — something overlooked at times by baseball traditionalists and sabermetric analysts.

      Ackley’s front side flares out too often. It prevents him from taking a fastball on the outside corner and lining it into left center field and it causes him to roll over on grooved pitches, resulting in a weak groundout to the second baseman.

      The good news: It’s a fixable problem that a good hitting coach can help him overcome.

  • Bayview Herb

    I have been bugged by outrageous wads of chew bulging out of players faces either in the dugout or the playing field. Yesterday, I thought Franklin might choke on his huge hairball as he rounded the bases. Baseball banned smoking in the dugout and of course on the field. Kids make heroes out of baseball players more than any other sport, and one of the first ways they emulate their hero is to have than circle in their back pocket. Baseball needs to grow up and face that chewing anything but gum on the field needs to be prohibited … For the Kids if not the player’s health.