By now, everyone knows about Stephen Strasburg, so we're going to skip past him to begin our draft coverage - oh yes, we're actually going to try draft coverage this year. Instead, let's start with University of North Carolina utility player, Dustin Ackley.
I'm leaving myself open for flack if I don't quickly note that by "utility" I mean we have no idea what position Ackley is going to play. Ackley underwent Tommy John Surgery, which obviously raises some concerns over his ability to throw - something an outfielder does far more often than a first baseman. If Ackley is restricted to first base then his major league value takes a 15 run shot -- moving from center field (2.5 runs) to first base (-12.5 runs).
One thing that isn't a question mark is Ackley's ability to hit the baseball. Thus far this season, Ackley is hitting .431/.543/.754 with five homeruns. As a freshman in 2007, Ackley possessed an on-base percentage of .448 and a slugging percentage of .591. In 208, those numbers climbed to .503 and .597. Park adjusting those statistics gets you OPSes of 1.100 and 1.160 rather than 1.040 and 1.100. Ackley has also been successful stealing bases and hitting for a good average while limiting his strikeouts.
Need some proof of Ackley's power? How about breaking an aluminum bat while hitting a grand slam.
Ever Broken An Aluminum Bat? (via CBS)
When I was talking this piece over with Sky, the one thing we both established is the need to attempt and set some baselines with the college statistics. If I tell you that Albert Pujols has a .500 on-base percentage in the majors, you would be impressed. If I tell you the NCAA leader in on-base percentage this season is close to .700, you would think I'm talking about the best hitter in the world.
Consider this, last year Chipper Jones lead MLB with a .470 OBP. 120 college hitters (with at least 120 plate appearances) had OBPs above .470. Yes, one-hundred-and-twenty players. That's just ridiculous, right? And look at the average amount of runs scored per game. With aluminum bats, degrees of talent that vary greatly - especially on the lower ends, and occasional sandbox parks you see an offensive explosion. This makes the college game more action packed, but also makes the statistics less reliable. League average was around .450, so by comparison, Ackley is above average regardless, although he's not the Superman you may have in mind when you initially read his line.
You know how smart people always talk about how park factors and league adjustments matter? Yeah, they really do, and they matter even more in the weaker leagues, where extreme outliers are far more common on both sides of the average.
Take all of this information into account and you get the following conclusion: Dustin Ackley is a good baseball player. His numbers are above average even in an inflated league, but they are in no way indicative that he's some otherworldly talent.