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.