Sports


Rookie second baseman Dustin Ackley a bright spot for the Seattle Mariners

SATURDAY, AUG. 6, 2011

SEATTLE – In the midst of another disappointing Mariners season, Dustin Ackley has been one of the few beacons of light. And hope.

Ackley continues to grow in stature by the day, exceeding so far even the most optimistic assessment of his initial impact. While the Mariners play a rotating carousel of youngsters to figure out exactly what they have, I’d say we’ve already found out what they have at second base: a future star, for whom the future has arrived.

Projected for 162 games, Ackley is on pace for 83 runs, 187 hits, 42 doubles, 21 triples, 21 homers and 96 runs batted in – on top of a .315 average, .377 on-base percentage and .559 slugging percentage (making for a .937 OPS).

Those numbers in a full season would make him a virtual certainty to be the American League Rookie of the Year, and put him in the Most Valuable Player conversation. The only players with a higher OPS than .937 in the A.L. are the elite of the elite: Jose Bautista (1.121), Adrian Gonzalez (.986), Miguel Cabrera (.982) and Curtis Granderson (.942).

There are two obvious caveats to this statistical projection. One, it’s still a small sample size. The league is learning about Ackley and will make adjustments. We’ll see how he adjusts to those adjustments. My snap judgment is that Ackley is one of those rare hitting prodigies who will figure it out very quickly.

The other caveat is that Ackley doesn’t have 162 games to build his case. Even if he played in every Mariners game the rest of the way, the most Ackley could play this season is 91 games.

Ackley’s name is starting to crop up in Rookie of the Year discussions, but it will be an uphill climb.

He will be competing against rookies who have been here all year – including his teammate Michael Pineda. He also has to contend with Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson, and two stellar rookies the Mariners will see this weekend in Anaheim, Calif., Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo and closer Jordan Walden. Pineda and Walden were American League All-Stars.

Other midseason call-ups are making an impact. Eric Hosmer of Kansas City came up much earlier than Ackley – playing 77 games, almost exactly twice as many as Ackley. And Boston’s Josh Reddick has similar stats to Ackley in 42 games (.341/.387/.556).

The question I had is whether there was any history of a position player winning Rookie of the Year with around 90 games played. In the old days, that would have been a major research project. Thanks to the wonders of baseballreference.com, you can do the research in about two minutes.

Turns out no American League position player with less than 100 games has been Rookie of the Year, an award that dates to 1947. The last call-up to win was Evan Longoria in 2008, but that’s a little deceptive. Longoria came up on April 12, just 11 games into the Rays’ season, and wound up playing 122 games. Ackley came up June 17, 70 games into Seattle’s season.

The A.L. Rookie of the Year with the fewest games (throwing out 1994, the strike-shortened season when Bob Hamelin of KC won with 101 games) is Baltimore’s Al Bumbry, who played 110 games when he won in 1973 (with a .337/.398/.500 line). Second fewest is Ackley’s hitting coach, Chris Chambliss, with 111 games for Cleveland in 1971 (.275/.341/.407).

That doesn’t offer much hope for Ackley, who would have an unprecedented paucity of games if he were to win Rookie of the Year. Ah, but the National League offers some helpful precedent.

Three have won N.L. Rookie of the Year with not only fewer than 100 games, but fewer than 90. In 2005, Ryan Howard of the Phillies earned the award with 88 games (.288/.356/.567). In 1978, Bob Horner of the Braves won with 89 games (.266/.313/.539); and in 1959 Willie McCovey, the future Hall of Famer, played in just 52 but made enough of an instant impact (.354/.429/.656) to win Rookie of the Year.

I think voters are more open-minded to call-ups in the current climate, where holding back top prospects until mid-June, largely to eliminate an extra year of arbitration eligibility, has become commonplace.

Just last year, the Giants’ Buster Posey, who played his first game on May 29 and wound up with 108 games, was voted Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Danny Valencia of the Twins, who debuted on June 3 of last year and finished with 85 games, finished third in the A.L. voting (to Neftali Feliz and Austin Jackson).

Ackley has an outside shot if he keeps up his current pace for 52 more games – particularly with the likelihood that Pineda’s workload is likely to diminish down the stretch.

For the Mariners, however, the bigger reward will be having Ackley in their lineup beyond his rookie season.



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