Austin Jackson Needs to Adjust

After acquiring Austin Jackson from the Yankees last winter, the Tigers wasted no time in testing their new center fielder. Even with Johnny Damon, a career leadoff hitter, on the roster, Jim Leyland still wrote Jackson’s name in the lineup’s top spot. So far he has flourished in the role, posting a .372 wOBA, which is identical to his OBP. That is largely based on his .316 batting average, though his 8.1 percent walk rate is far from horrible. Even with his hot start, though, Jackson clearly has to make adjustments if he’s to sustain his success.

Steve Goldman and Rob Neyer discussed Jackson recently, noting the obvious: no one can sustain a .520 BABIP and a 31.9 percent line drive rate. As the latter falls back into a normal range so will the former. This hurts a player like Jackson even more, because he strikes out at a tremendous rate. In his 86 plate appearances to date he has struck out 32 times, or in 38.6 percent of his PA. We can expect that number to decline, too. But will it be to an extent that it can keep up with his declining BABIP?

At his current strikeout rate, Jackson would break Mark Reynolds‘s single-season strikeout record, 223, in just 600 PA. Yet, because he bats leadoff, Jackson would have far more plate appearances during a full season. If he played 150 games at his current rate of 4.77 PA/game, he’d come to the plate 717 times. That would amount to 272 strikeouts, 49 more than the record Reynolds set last year. Of course, if Jackson continues to strike out at his current clip, chances are he won’t be long for the leadoff spot. Even at 650 PA, though, Jackson would still walk back to the dugout 247 times.

In AAA last year Jackson struck out in 24.4 percent of his plate appearances. Even if Jackson reduces his strikeout rate to that level he’d still swing and miss at strike three 175 times in 717 PA. That would represent the 29th most strikeouts in a season ever, a tie with Jay Buhner, Jose Canseco, Rob Deer, Dave Nicholson, and Gorman Thomas. As you might recognize, at least from the first three names, those guys hit for power. Jackson does not.

Jackson’s power peaked at advanced-A ball in 2007 where he posted a .221 ISO during his breakout second half. The next season, when he moved to AAA, his ISO declined to .135. During his 2009 season in AAA it barely cracked .100, sitting at .105. This year he has started the year hitting for a bit more power, a .145 ISO fueled by five doubles, two triples, and a home run. Even at that rate, though, Jackson still doesn’t hit for considerable power. Historically, this does not bode well for his future performance.

Only one player in baseball history has struck out 175 times in a season while producing an ISO of .150 or less. Jose Hernandez accomplished the feat in 2003 with just 571 PA. Jackson should not look at Hernandez as a role model of any type. In addition to his puny ISO, Hernandez posted a minuscule .287 OBP that season. For Jackson, a guy who hits leadoff, that’s unthinkable. Even if we make an adjustment and look for players who have struck out in 24 percent or more of their PA (minimum 500) with an ISO of under .150, we get only 16 names. Of those, only three — Ben Grieve in 2001, Rick Monday in 1968, and Rich Becker in 1997 — posted an OBP of .350 or better.

If the voting took place today, Jackson would be the obvious choice for AL Rookie of the Year. If he continues adapting to the majors, he could end the year in the same spot. The way he’s currently going, though, will not suffice. He has hit far more line drives than any player can sustain during a full season, and currently boasts the best BABIP in baseball by nearly .070. Even at his ridiculous .384 BABIP from last year, Jackson would show greatly different numbers. His batting average, for instance, would fall to .241. Who knows what type of effect it would have on his power numbers?

The Tigers have to be happy with the production they’ve received so far from Jackson’s hot bat, but the way he’s currently going it would be foolish to expect his run to continue. This isn’t to say he can’t adjust. He certainly can, as he showed during his minor league career. Part of that is striking out less often as fewer of the balls he puts in play drop for hits. It’s not an easy adjustment, but it’s one Jackson will need to make as we get deeper into 2010.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Tom B
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Tom B
6 years 2 months ago

Just say what the Yankee’s knew, Austin Jackson should be in AAA.

… and you could have skipped writing this whole article.

Chris
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Chris
6 years 2 months ago

Just because a guy isn’t ready to lead off doesn’t mean he’s not MLB ready. Give him time down in the lineup where he can learn to identify pitches better and draw a few walks.

Capn
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Capn
6 years 2 months ago

Having seen most of his at-bats this year, I must say he is definitely impressive. Yes, he is striking out too much (something Curtis Granderson was also familiar with), but he he is much more selective with this swings than that stat indicates. He has shown the patience of a rookie at times, which led to giving away some at-bats, but I have no doubt he will continue to improve, and that pop in his bat will continue to get louder as well…

SteveP
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SteveP
6 years 2 months ago

I’m not quite sure the power will ever arrive for Jackson. He may end up posting decent power numbers eventually (10-15 HR) but he’ll never be the 30 HR 30 SB guy he was being touted as a couple of years ago. In the minors, his power numbers declined each time he moved up to a new level while the strikeouts remained static. That’s a concerning trend. I think he just has to realize that he’s never going to be much of a power guy and just try to make contact more. If he can get that strikeout rate down to an acceptable rate I think he can be a good player. I also think, despite his hot start, he should have been down in AAA to begin the season proving he can do just that.

Matt C
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Matt C
6 years 2 months ago

I think ideally they would’ve liked to have him start in the minors but I just don’t think they have any better options in the system to play CF. According to most scouts he is their best position prospect and they don’t really have anybody else on the big league roster that could play CF in spacious Comerica Park any better than he does. I guess Clete Thomas may have been alright out there since he did cover for Granderson to start the 08 season when Grandy was hurt but I don’t think he would do as well as Jackson is doing.

Matt C
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Matt C
6 years 2 months ago

As long as Leyland is manager and he is on the roster he’ll probably still bat leadoff no matter how many K’s he racks up. I believe Granderson led the team in K’s on the team every year he was with the Tigers yet Leyland always batted him leadoff. It took him a couple years to even move him down in the order when they were up against lefties despite the fact his numbers were terrible against them. It’s like as long as you’re fast he’ll put you there despite the fact Leyland doesn’t run much, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But we’ll see when his numbers go down if he’ll keep him here because unlike the years with Granderson he does have Damon on the team, another guy who fits the mold of what Leyland looks for in a leadoff hitter so maybe he’ll end up putting him there.

will
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will
6 years 2 months ago

Even if he drops to .250 with his defense in center field, he’s still an asset to the tigers and better than a lot of the other options the Tigers were looking at, or have in their system to be roaming the spacious center field at Comerica Park

Matt C
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Matt C
6 years 2 months ago

Also I think Comerica Park will benefit somebody like Jackson greatly. Since he’s not really a power hitter it won’t hurt him to play in a bigger park since he probably wouldn’t put much out anyway even if it was smaller but with the spacious outfield there will be bigger gaps and more room for outfielders to cover which will allow more of his hits to drop in, so his BABIP may stay relatively high throughout the year. Plus if he hits it in the gaps it almost would be a guaranteed triple with his speed, much like it was for Granderson. I think he’s tailored made for it.

Chief
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Chief
6 years 2 months ago

His hitting normalize when the BABIP and strikeout rate come home to roost. But the defense looks to be something that won’t be normalizing. It’s damn good.

JEFF
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JEFF
6 years 1 month ago

Agreed… He looks better than Granderson did in CF already…

Brian
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Brian
6 years 2 months ago

Whether he declines or not the Yanks traded a player who is better than what they got. Hopefully Granderson can K less than 160 times this year and bat over .250 for a change.

DJ
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DJ
6 years 2 months ago

I’ve been saying all this on the Yahoo MLB site for three weeks plus… the yahooz go nuts at the truth… but don’t they always.

It was all obvious before the season began. Nice to see somebody with common sense pick up on it.

Pero
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Pero
6 years 1 month ago

Must start by saying that I absolutely loved Granderson here in Detroit BUT Jackson is playing just great and is better than Granderson was his first year. He already plays a better centerfield than Granderson because he sees the ball better, gets a MUCH faster jump and has a better arm than Curtis. Jackson doesn’t have the power that Curtis has but that may eventually come. That said, Jackson is already playing at a high level and no doubt the Tigers are pleased with their new center fielder. Although I like Granderson, he has reached his absolute peak, will NEVER hit left handers, never get a better jump on balls in the outfield and along with having to make spectacular catches due to his late jump will completely misplay many other balls during the season. Detroit has to absolutely love this deal.

Zack
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Zack
6 years 1 month ago

“That said, Jackson is already playing at a high level and no doubt the Tigers are pleased with their new center fielder.”

I think we all acknowledged that, but he wont continue to hit at a high level once his K%, BABIP and LD% catch up with him. So in a month or two will Detriot “absolutely love this deal”? If he doesnt develop power and continue that K% will they love the deal then too?

Matt Snyder
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6 years 1 month ago

After striking out in his first 19 games as a big leaguer, and since this article was written, Jackson has now gone two games without a K.

Two games doesn’t really mean anything, but maybe he’s settling down some?

Bob
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Bob
6 years 1 month ago

His K rate is already down to 30% and as Matt notes, he has not struck out for the last 2 games. You fail to point out that 17 of 32 K came in the 8 games against the Angels and Rangers. In the remaining 13 games he had 4 games with 2 K, 7 games with 1K, the last 2 games with 0 K. Instead of judging him on 8 bad games, during his first road trip that played 11 straight games 3 time zones from home, let’s see what his numbers look like at the end of May.

Interesting choice of 175K as the cutoff in your example. If you went with 174K you could have included Curtis Granderson, who had 174K in only 679 PA his rookie year.

JEFF
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JEFF
6 years 1 month ago

they like to do that here when its not an article about the Sox, Rays or M’s

Ozzie Guillen
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Ozzie Guillen
6 years 1 month ago

5 for 5 in your face Pawlikowski!

John K.
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John K.
6 years 1 month ago

Did Jackson read this?! After striking out in each of the 19 games prior to this post, he’s only struck out twice in the 37 plate appearances since while actually raising his already astronomical BABIP. In fact, he went the first 19 of those plate appearances without striking out once, more than tripling his previous best stretch of 6. His previous low in any 19 PA stretch was 4. His previous low in any 37 PA stretch was 9.

Eerie timing…

Hilary Hakkinen
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Hilary Hakkinen
5 years 9 months ago

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