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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 29, 2013 at 12:19 PM

On Wedge and Ackley and the comments heard round the (cyber) world

Photo by Associated Press

Photo by Associated Press

(Here’s today’s Mariners minor-league report, with news of a Mike Zunino homer and a promising return by Erasmo Ramirez with Jackson. Should have some news later today on the status of Brandon Maurer, and whether the M’s will dip into the minors to bolster their bench with Justin Smoak and Michael Morse both ailing).

UPDATE: Alex Liddi has been spotted in San Diego, so it appears he’s been called up, which makes sense to augment the bench while Smoak and Morse heal. Indications are that Brandon Maurer will go down, and the Mariners will bring up a replacement starter when his turn comes up. Jeremy Bonderman, who has a June 1 opt-out, is the leading candidate).

I’m stunned at the backlash against Eric Wedge for his snide sabermetrics comments from Monday. When you have folks as disparate as Jon Heyman and Rob Neyer — pretty much at opposite ends of the sabermetric spectrum — ripping you, you know you’ve struck a chord. Dave Cameron and Dayn Perry also chimed in, as did Dave Schoenfield on his ESPN “Sweet Spot” blog. That last one is for subscribers only, but the headline pretty much says it all: “Time for Mariners to fire Eric Wedge.”

Look, a case can be made for the ouster of Eric Wedge (not one I’d support at the moment), but I don’t think that some ill-chosen words about sabermetrics should play into it. For one thing, I think it’s stretching things to say, as has become the talking point, that Wedge was blaming sabermetrics for the downfall of Dustin Ackley. I was off on Monday, so I didn’t hear his quotes in context, nor did I view his demeanor or body language. Yesterday, I listened to a tape of the session, which occurred before the game — his usual meeting with reporters to go over the news of the day, which obviously was dominated by the demotion of Ackley. Here’s a transcript of the entire portion of his interview dealing with Ackley:

Q: What prompted you to make the move with Ackley?

Wedge: It was just time. Obviously, we fought for the guy for quite a period time now and wanted to make it work up here and not have to do that. Ultimately, we didn’t feel like we could take it any further. We’ve talked about it before — I’d rather give it a little more time than less time. In my experiences, when you do give it a little more time, more times than not, if you believe in the kids and they have the ability you think they have, there’s a better than average chance it’s going to work out.

Again, with Ack, it’s more of a mental approach and his mindset up there. It’s not his swing anymore. I mean, he’s in a pretty good position, fundamentally. But I do think it’s the mental that leads to the fundamental. The mental that leads to the actual performance. Listen, he’s going to be a good hitter. He’s done a hell of a job at second base. He’s played a great second base. He gets down the line quickly, he can steal a bag, he cuts the bases as good as anybody. There’s a lot there to like. He’s a good kid, he competes. He just needs to get over some things mentally in regard to his approach. When he does that, we’ll get him back up here. I think he’ll take off. That’s why you have Triple-A. This is the exact situation for that. This allows him to catch his breath, go down there and work on what he needs to work on.

Q: When he stands there and watches strike one and strike two, how much does that have to do with it?

Wedge:¬†That’s the mental side of it. That’s part of it. That’s not the only side of it, but that’s one of the examples he needs to get beyond.

Q: Any specific instructions for him in Triple-A?

Wedge: No, just a lot of what we just talked about, really. Add a little bit more attitude in the box.

Q: His swing doesn’t seem free and easy. It seems like he’s just trying to place the bat on the ball.

Wedge: Because he gets himself in a position to where it’s later in the count, more times than not with two strikes, and that’s what you do. It’s easier to be free and easy earlier in the count when you can let ‘er rip. It’s hard to be perfect in this game. You can’t play this game carefree with worrying about failure. You got to go out and you got to let ‘er rip. It’s like the old Risky Business line if you remember back in the day. Sometimes you got to say…for those of you that know that. (NOTE: The line from Risky Business, in case you missed that 1983 movie, goes like this, with help from Lord Google: “Joel, you wanna know something? Every now and then say, “What the f—.” “What the f—” gives you freedom. Freedom, brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.”). That’s in essence what we’re talking about here.”

Q: Have you ever been around that, though, where you have to get on guys about swinging more? Around here, a lot of times, we’ve dealt with guys who swing too much

Wedge: Oh, yeah, I have. It’s kind of the new generation. It’s all this sabermetrics (pause) stuff, for lack of a better term. You know what I mean? People who haven’t played since they were nine years old and think they’ve got it figured out. It gets in these kids’ head.

Q: Did you see a noticeable deterioration in the last in the last three days, because on Friday, you were pretty adamant you thought he could figure  it out.

Wedge: If you don’t know me well by now, I’m going to be adamant to the end, knowing where I’m at inside, because I’m going to back these guys all the way. How far we were down the road, or how far I am down the road may be different than what I’m talking to you guys about. But I’m going to support these guys all the way through. Otherwise, you’re just setting them up to fail.

Q: Is it disappointing he wasn’t able to get it at this level with all the work put into it?

Wedge: I’d say it could be frustrating. Disappointing is a little bit harsh, because I really feel he’s going to be a part of this. I really do. He’s too good a hitter, and he’s got too much going on, not to be a part of this. There’s so many examples in the past of this sort of thing happening and then them coming back and being successful. I know that for a fact. I just think he’s still a young man, he got up here quick, he’s got to learn a few things, and we’ll get him back up here.”

And that was the extent of Wedge’s comments on Ackley. It’s unfortunate he took that personal shot at people who analyze statistics. I’d have hoped we had gotten beyond the stereotype of the non-athletic nerd in their mother’s basement, crunching numbers. But it sounds to me like he’s lamenting the fact that some players get muddled by an onslaught of statistical information that might mess with their heads and take them out of their game.That’s a little different than saying Dustin Ackley isn’t hitting because of Bill James and his acolytes.

If you want to argue that that viewpoint is indicative of a non-progressive mindset detrimental to leading a ballclub in 2013, that’s valid. If you want to argue that whatever Wedge’s thoughts about sabermetrics, his job is to get the best out of players, and he’s not done that with Ackley and others, that’s fair too. And that’s what Wedge will ultimately be judged on, like all managers — the progress of his players. Because players’ performances lead to wins and losses, which is the bottom line for him and general manager Jack Zduriencik, who is the one providing him with the players.

I think that two years and 50 games into his tenure, having inherited a 101-loss team, is too soon to determine that Eric Wedge can not lead this team. That day might well come. Three or four sentences of an answer to one of the dozens of questions he gets each day certainly isn’t the defining measure of that determination.

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