The Mariners season has finally started and what hurt them last season — offense — is looking much more optimistic after a couple of additions and improvement from other players.
One spot in the Mariners lineup that is still being sorted out is the leadoff hitter. Six games into the season, the top of the lineup is being adjusted almost every day.
Manager Lloyd McClendon has put a couple different players at the front of the lineup, but the most notable names are Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson.
Ackley has started the season hot, and McClendon has moved him up to the top of the lineup multiple times. It is understandable why McClendon is doing this, but he cannot forget about Jackson.
Jackson has so much more experience leading off than Ackley and deserves to be at the top of the lineup.
He has struggled ever since he was traded from the Detroit Tigers, and it’s hard to pinpoint why. Safeco Field is a hitters nightmare and that might be a part of his problem. Maybe it’s playing with new teammates after spending years playing with Tigers All-Stars Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
But Jackson has the experience to continue batting leadoff. Experience-wise, Jackson has batted leadoff for 86 percent of his career at-bats. Meanwhile Ackley’s career leadoff percentage is only at 22 percent.
Ackley is showing signs of becoming the hitter he was supposed to be after he was drafted out of the University of North Carolina, but he hasn’t yet proved that he can hit leadoff like Jackson has.
Lloyd McClendon said early this spring that hitting Dustin Ackley at the top of the lineup last season was “a mistake.” It may have been a mistake in 2014, but in 2015 — “The Year of Ackley,” if you will — it’s the best mistake he can make.
Ackley has been slotted all up and down the lineup in his four-plus year career, but none more frequently than in the 1-hole; he’s off to the hottest start to a season we’ve ever seen from him. Furthermore, his beard is already in midseason form, and it’s only April.
His main competition for the leadoff spot is fellow outfielder Austin Jackson. Jackson has the advantage in experience as he’s played 633 games in the leadoff spot compared to Ackley’s 109, but that shouldn’t scare McClendon away from the majesty that is Ackley’s bat. On a per-game basis in the leadoff spot, Ackley has struck out less than Jackson, walked more, has more runs batted in and hits home runs more than six times as often!
For years, Ichiro spoiled us. No one on this team will ever match his high average, high volume of steals, and general mastery of hitting. We shouldn’t try to fit a leadoff hitter into a mold that doesn’t match the scheme of our roster. Taking a chance on Ackley at the leadoff position can pay huge dividends. He won’t steal 50 bases, but with Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager hitting behind him in the lineup, he won’t need to. “The Year of Ackley” is 2015; write it down.