If you were to look up the definition of a sophomore slump in a dictionary, you would find Seattle Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley’s 2012 season. Expectations tend to be very high when you are a #2 overall draft pick, especially when you are selected right after a once in a lifetime prospect like Stephen Strasburg.
Ackley came up in June 2011, and hit for a respectable .273 average in his debut season. 2012 was Ackley’s first full season with the Mariners, and he started the season a little bit slow, hitting for a .250 average in the first two months off the season. Then from May through the end of the season Ackley hit a miserable .218, giving him an average of .226 over the whole season.
This season-long slump can be explained. It wasn’t the fact that other teams picked up on his tendencies, he was just incredibly unlucky. Ackley had a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) of .265, only 11 qualified hitters had a lower number. Typically, about 30% of balls put in play go for a hit, so the league avg. for BABIP is around .300.
BABIP numbers can go a long way in explaining slumps. Players who have a BABIP well above or below the league average, like Ackley last year; tend to regress back to the mean. For example, Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez suffered a similar stint of unluckiness in 2011, hitting for a .191 batting average, with a BABIP of .272. In 2012, with a more average BABIP of .308, Alvarez saw his batting average rise 53 points to .244.
Manager Eric Wedge will have lofty expectations for Ackley, as he will continue to hit at the top of the order in the upcoming 2013 season. Dustin Ackley could expect a similar spike in his batting average, as his BABIP numbers will likely even out.