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Athletics Acquire Conor Jackson

The Oakland Athletics sit at 32-33, only four games out of first in a tight AL West, despite a terrible .316 wOBA from their outfielders. Oakland GM Billy Beane saw a chance to upgrade at that position today, acquiring Conor Jackson from the Diamondbacks.

This is a classic buy low from Beane. Conor Jackson has been struggling since an unfortunate encounter with valley fever in 2009. In his last 282 PAs, Jackson has a .280 wOBA. Given that he splits his defensive time between left field and first base, that’s well below replacement level even before we take into account that Jackson isn’t a great fielder. So what does Beane see in Jackson?

In the three seasons before 2009, Jackson was a well above-average hitter. Each season saw an OBP above .365 and a wOBA above .350. His walk rate hovered just above average and his strikeout rates were low, a combination leading to the aforementioned above-average OBP. There’s reason to believe that Jackson can return to this previous level of play, as the limited plate appearances he’s seen aren’t nearly enough to establish a new talent level. ZiPS believes that Jackson will be an above-average hitter for the rest of the season, projecting a .269/.351/.411 line, good for a .341 wOBA, the rest of the way.

That’s not a fantastic number for a mediocre corner outfielder, but it should provide an upgrade over Eric Patterson or a legitimate right-handed platoon partner for Gabe Gross, both of whom are mightily struggling at the plate in 2010. Beane likely believes that if Jackson has made a full recovery from his ailment that he could return to the .350 or .360 wOBAs he posted in ’06-’08, which would make him easily the best-hitting regular outfielder on the team.

The Athletics sent 24-year-old Triple-A closer Sam Demel to the Diamondbacks to complete the trade. Demel has solid but not dominant numbers with Sacramento, posting a 3.11 park adjusted FIP. He has a solid 8.7:2.8 K:BB ratio, but that FIP is supported by a very low 3.7% HR/FB rate. Including a luck adjustment (which can be seen here), Demel has a 4.03 FIP. Given the presence of Jerry Blevins, Andrew Bailey, Mike Wuertz, Craig Breslow, and Brad Ziegler, Demel is an expendable piece.

Jackson is certainly no guarantee, as the move to a larger stadium in the better league could just push his already poor 2010 numbers even lower. However, there’s a pretty good chance that Jackson becomes the best-hitting outfielder on the A’s roster with this move. Given that the price was a fringe-type minor league reliever, the risk here is low, and the potential reward high enough to warrant the acquisition.