Recognizing Austin Jackson

I’m not overly interested in MVP postmortems. I’m happy it’s over, and we can move on to other things. But, yesterday’s results have inspired me to do one final post attempting to help a center fielder get the recognition he deserves for his 2012 season. And that center fielder is Austin Jackson.

24 different players were named on the 28 AL MVP ballots. Austin Jackson was not among those 24 players. Not a single writer saw fit to even throw him a 10th place bone. Seven writers found room for Alex Rios. Four found room for Jim Johnson. One found room for Raul Ibanez, which… you know, let’s just move on. But no one jotted Austin Jackson’s name down even once, even though he was quite clearly one of the 10 best players in the American League this year, no matter what way you choose to view baseball.

There were 83 players who got at least 500 plate appearances in the American League in 2012. Here is where Jackson ranks among those 83 in a variety of offensive statistics:

BA: .300 (12th)
OBP: .377 (8th)
SLG: .479 (21st)
wOBA: .371 (11th)
wRC+: 135 (13th)

He was a high average and on base guy who also hit for decent power, and on a per at-bat basis, he was a top 15 AL hitter this year. A DL stint in May limited him to 137 games played, but even still, his 617 plate appearances rank 35th in the AL this year. He was, for the most part, an everyday player. If you combine quantity and quality by translating wOBA into wRAA, Jackson comes out #12 in the AL. His two week stint on the DL doesn’t really affect his standing among AL hitters much.

And, of course, he played center field, and by pretty much any method you choose to evaluate him, he was pretty good at it. He has good range and can run down balls in the gap, and whether its the eye test or UZR, Jackson grades out as an above average defender relative to his peers. Once you factor in that his peers are already above average defenders, it becomes pretty clear that Jackson was one of the more valuable defensive players in the league this year. If you prefer numbers, he comes out 24th in position-neutral fielding (UZR plus the positional adjustment).

In other words, that top 15 hitter was also a top 25 defender. He isn’t a great baserunner, so he’s not a true “all around” star like some other unnamed AL center fielder was this year, but he was a good hitter who played good defense at a premium position. And, of course, if you like intangibles, his team made the playoffs, and they probably wouldn’t have without him.

In terms of why he got ignored, it’s not the position he played, or the context he played in. After all, it’s not like center fielders as a whole were discriminated against. Four of the top 10 finishers were center fielders, with Adam Jones being named on 24 ballots and Yoenis Cespedes being named on 14. Alex Rios, who used to be a center fielder but has now shifted over to a less demanding corner position, was named on seven ballots, despite being a worse hitter and playing for the team whose collapse allowed Jackson’s team to win the division.

At the end of the day, the only obvious explanation for why Jackson didn’t appear on a single ballot – RBIs. He finished 50th in the league in RBIs — because he hit leadoff, of course — and wasn’t particularly close to Trout, Hamilton, Jones, or Cespedes in that category. Voters much prefer driving in runs to scoring them, and Jackson’s spot in the line-up didn’t allow him to drive in enough runs to get noticed.

Which is just too bad, because Austin Jackson had a really terrific 2012 season. I guess if we recognize that, it makes it harder to continue to claim that one player carried the Tigers into the playoffs by himself, but I’m okay with that. Jackson did more than his fair share, and deserves recognition for his outstanding season. He didn’t get it yesterday, but hopefully people around the country noticed that he turned himself into one of the game’s best overall players.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Ari N
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Ari N
3 years 10 months ago

How do you see Jackson’s power progressing? Can he had a few more to his annual homerun totals?

Jason and the Ergonomic Chair
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Jason and the Ergonomic Chair
3 years 10 months ago

Yes?

catswithbats
Guest
catswithbats
3 years 10 months ago

If Jackson’s teammates at the bottom of the order had only got on base for him to drive in, he would have been a worthy MVP candidate! /sarcasm

//I guess if we recognize that, it makes it harder to continue to claim that one player carried the Tigers into the playoffs by himself//

A similar thing happened last year too, with Verlander, Cabrera (whose 2011 season was better than his 2012 season), and the “Verlander carried the team to the postseason” narrative that was prevalent.

Bryan Grosnick
Member
Member
Bryan Grosnick
3 years 10 months ago

Also, Alex Gordon.

Bob
Guest
3 years 10 months ago

Might help Tigers with contract negotiations, as Jackson is in his first year of arbitration.

Brian
Guest
Brian
3 years 10 months ago

I also speculate that a lot of voters would say you have to be your team MVP, or at the very least top 3 on your team, to garner a vote as a top 10 most valuable player in the league. Cabrera and Verlander were pretty clearly more deserving, and clearly the majority of voters would disagree that Jackson was even the 3rd most valuable over Fielder. But regardless, I’d think that because most voters are gonna throw two tigers definitely and likely a 3rd in Fielder in their top 10, they would purposely leave Tiger #4 off the list. However, I guess RBIs (and probably more likely name value) could be a pretty clear justification as to why Fielder got so many votes

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 10 months ago

“he was quite clearly one of the 10 best players in the American League this year, no matter what way you choose to view baseball.”

I’m sorry, but this is just wrong. Maybe he’s clearly one of the 10 best players in the AL the way you view baseball, the way I view baseball, and the way most of your readers view baseball. But don’t be so arrogant as to suggest that everybody views baseball the way we do. If he was clearly one of the 10 best players to everybody, then you wouldn’t have written this article because he would have appeared on just about every ballot.

I’d also like to point out that he’s not on the top-10 WAR leaderboard at baseball-reference. (I’m not sure where he lands on that list, as I can’t figure out how to see beyond the top-10 on their website).

Steve
Guest
Steve
3 years 10 months ago

BA: .300 (12th)
OBP: .377 (8th)
SLG: .479 (21st)
wOBA: .371 (11th)
wRC+: 135 (13th)

If you combine quantity and quality by translating wOBA into wRAA, Jackson comes out #12 in the AL.

By these numbers, it isn’t even clear, considering we’ve established many voters don’t care much about defense.

vivaelpujols
Guest
vivaelpujols
3 years 10 months ago

Yeah he wansn’t even in the top 30 in RBIs.

todmod
Guest
todmod
3 years 10 months ago

Weirdest part to me – he was 9th in the AL in fWAR, with 4 players behind him within .5 WAR. Even using the site’s measure, he wasn’t an obvious top 10 player. You can recognize an overlooked player without making such firm claims.

Polka
Guest
3 years 10 months ago

Shut-up dope!
He was one of the mail reasons we were able to keep snails pace on the Chockers from the South Side and in the AL if there was a redaft- He’d go top 20 in a heartbreat!

SSS
Guest
SSS
3 years 10 months ago

Its too bad his strikeout rate was up to about 1 K / G by the end. I thought he had a chance to be a .300 hitter, but I would think .270-.280 is more reasonable. At least his power improved.

ralph
Guest
ralph
3 years 10 months ago

It bears mentioning that the Raul Ibanez vote came from Tigers beat writer John Lowe. I guess “seeing him play everyday” must have revealed some massive flaws in Jackson’s game!

Tom
Guest
Tom
3 years 10 months ago

Presumably, John Lowe is psychic, and was just tossing Ibanez a courtesy vote for his post-season heroics. From now on, I will be getting all my stock tips from him.

ralph
Guest
ralph
3 years 10 months ago

That’s the funniest thing about the vote. The average fan might look at it and go, “Yeah, he had a pretty good ALDS, so why not?”

Then the average fan grows up a little bit and eventually learns that the ballots had to be submitted before the playoffs, and thus the average fan loses all faith in anything.

schlomsd
Member
schlomsd
3 years 10 months ago

I figured it was just a mistake, he meant to vote for someone else and didn’t notice.

Chris
Guest
3 years 10 months ago

Butterfly ballot?

Boom! Roasted!
Guest
Boom! Roasted!
3 years 10 months ago

“I guess if we recognize that, it makes it harder to continue to claim that one player carried the Tigers into the playoffs by himself”

Such as this website not recognizing him until after the Fangraphs mascot lost?

We all know this article is just another thinly veiled excuse to devalue Cabrera winning the MVP. Which is a shame for Jackson as he did have a good year…especially when this website was regarding him as a defensive replacement scrub last season

But we all know the true motives and it’s a shame that a statistical website hasn’t bothered to write a positive article on Cabrera’s season. But I guess the butthurt is still too strong.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
3 years 10 months ago

Haha, you think the BBWAA vote reshapes reality.

Boom! Roasted!
Guest
Boom! Roasted!
3 years 10 months ago

About as much as believing Cameon and Keith Law are the gospel on objectivity.

RationalSportsFan
Guest
3 years 10 months ago

I am guessing that the likelihood of making an intelligent post while using the word “butthurt” is roughly 0%.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 10 months ago

I laughed so hard at your comment that my butthurt.

jim
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jim
3 years 10 months ago

why do you people keep coming here to post your troll comments? come here to learn and discuss, not to troll. so tiring.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 10 months ago

I learned a lot from your comment.

essveepee
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essveepee
3 years 10 months ago

I read this and thought the same thing, a weird attempt to devalue Cabrera’s MVP candidacy by pointing out he did not carry the Tigers to the post season. This probably isn’t the case at all but…

Stephan Rhymer
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Stephan Rhymer
3 years 10 months ago

Ding, ding, ding!

steveoh
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steveoh
3 years 10 months ago

Why does total zone rate Jackson as one of the worst CF in baseball last year?

http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/AL/2012-specialpos_cf-fielding.shtml

RationalSportsFan
Guest
3 years 10 months ago

The same system had Jackson as the best CF in 2011. I am not sure what to conclude from this, but it seems worth noting.

Will
Guest
Will
3 years 10 months ago

Although you clearly tried your hardest, your internet beta-male snark still managed to come through.

vivaelpujols
Guest
vivaelpujols
3 years 10 months ago

Wow so he was top 15 in offense and to 25 in defense? If only we had a stat that tried to quantify the relative value of offense and defense!

Joe
Guest
Joe
3 years 10 months ago

Austin Jackson – 65 RBI’s
Derek Jeter – 58 RBI’s

Yeah the deficiency in RBI clearly is the one stat that leaves you off the ballot.

It’s the only “obvious explanantion” (well at least when you are trying to write yet another article on something that you are definitiely not still talking about)

Joe
Guest
Joe
3 years 10 months ago

Sorry – not meant as a reply to your comment.

Brandon T
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Brandon T
3 years 10 months ago

Yup. It shows that voters consistently overlook defense.

brendan
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brendan
3 years 10 months ago

cespedes more of a corner OF than CF right? His defense in center was pretty brutal.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
3 years 10 months ago

I think a bigger factor in Jackson not getting any votes than his lack of RBI’s is the fact that there were already three tigers on most voters ballots. It’s likely difficult to justify 4 of the top 10 most valuable players coming from the same team.

PackBob
Guest
PackBob
3 years 10 months ago

Great except for the second sentence of the last paragraph.

Until that point, I thought this post was a refreshing change from snark.

CK
Guest
CK
3 years 10 months ago

Catswithbats,

If i remember correctly the Tigers were an under .500 team when Verlander didn’t start in 2011. Thats why he won MVP.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
3 years 10 months ago

He couldn’t have been very good since Cabrera carried that team all year long.

WaldoinSC
Guest
3 years 10 months ago

It might also be worth noting that we’re talking about 10th place on the ballot. I doubt that even the most dedicated voters are giving that end of the ballot the consideration they give the top. Distinguishing among the eighth most valuable player, the ninth, tenth and eleventh is an exercise in hair-splitting at the atomic level.

attgig
Guest
attgig
3 years 10 months ago

I recognize his value after drafting him in my fantasy team :)

BABIP
Guest
BABIP
3 years 10 months ago

I hate when people try to make the most valuable player argument by looking at that player’s team or what their team did. The MVP should be the best player in the league.

And i know the word “valuable” is in MVP, but if your really want to get into value…then wouldn’t the player’s contract amount be more important than what other players happen to be on his team?

A player cannot control who he plays with and cannot make the post-season by themselves… they can control how well they play as an individual and that is what they should be voting on.

jjeziora
Member
jjeziora
3 years 10 months ago

Jackson seems to have a very high .BABIP over his career at .370. I would want to say that he is in line for some regression in that department, even though his batted ball stats would suggest he should be somewhat above average. Bill James has him at .368 BABIP for next year, is this high a .BABIP sustainable?

Another note, I wonder if his power is in line for regression or if its sustainable as well. He had a major increase in his HR/FB % and didn’t hit any more fly balls than normal for him.. He could be just tapping into his power as he is reaching his prime power years.

Spike
Guest
Spike
3 years 10 months ago

was just about to mention AusJax’s abnormally high babips and see that it took 40 posts till someone did that. bravo. so, I wonder how the progressive sabre-community views Jax’s consistently high babip. Isn’t the normal view on it that it isn’t sustainable? I’m not saying it isn’t cause I weight bip avg less than many sabres as a way of attempting to explain performance.

Not sure the answer to this bc I’m not familiar with every advanced metric, but is there a metric that tries to “normalize” babip fluctuation much like xFIP attempts to normalize HRs allowed for the sake of projections?

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