With Detroit Tigers centerfielder Austin Jackson, it’s all becoming quite clear now just who he is. Sometimes you watch a young player develop and you can’t make heads or tails of what to expect from one year to the next. Jackson was initially such a case.
As a rookie he smoked line drives all over the field on his way to a .293 average. He did this even though he struck out 170 times. His strong offensive season was fueled by a .396 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
In his 2nd season Jackson toiled most of the year as his strikeout rate increased to 27.1% of his at-bats and he was a little less lucky in the BABIP department (although still above league average) with a .340 mark. Jackson K’d 181 times in 2011 at the top of the Tigers’ lineup, hit just .249, and caused unrest among fans and concern on the part of management.
Changes were imminent with Jackson’s approach but the results are never a given in his line of work. He busted his tail during the 2011-12 offseason with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on reducing his exaggerated leg kick, which was supposed to serve as a useful timing mechanism, but instead turned into a major glitch in his mechanics.
Jackson then came into the 2012 season and started raking like it was his rookie season all over again but with increased power production and dramatically improved plate discipline. In 2012 his walk rate ballooned to 10.9% while his strikeout rate dipped all the way down to 21.7%. His BABIP remained a healthy .371.
In fact, a season ago, Jackson set career highs in average (.300), homers (16), RBI’s (66), walks (67), on-base % (.377), slugging (.479), and OPS (.856). He also K’d just 134 times. And don’t forget that he does all of this while turning out top-shelf defense every time he takes the field.
Entering 2013, there were still questions as to which player he was. Was 2012 a lucky run like his rookie year or did the shorter stride in the batter’s box really do the trick? Yeah, it did the trick. Jackson spent last season practicing the new approach and getting comfortable with it. Now he is mastering it.
Twice last night during Detroit’s 6-2 win over Seattle the Tigers’ leadoff man found himself down 0-2 in the count. In the first inning he battled Aaron Harang back to a full count before ripping a triple to the right-centerfield gap. Then in the top of the 8th with Detroit clinging to a 4-2 lead and thoughts of bullpen implosion on everyone’s mind, Jackson stepped to the dish against quirky left-hander Bobby LaFromboise with the bases loaded and two outs.
Jackson again found himself down in the count 0-2. He fought back to a full count once more before drawing a walk to bring home a run. These are the exact at-bats that Jackson could not excel in during his first two years in the league. His high leg kick cost him the ability to fight off tough pitches and stay alive in the count until he could catch a mistake by the pitcher. Two years ago both of these at-bats would have ended in strikeouts. Last night – a triple and a bases loaded walk.
Sometime you just have to admire the product and admit that what you are seeing isn’t a star in the making anymore, it’s an actual star.
So far in 2013 Jackson has spearheaded a lethal Tigers’ attack by hitting .393 through 61 at-bats. His on-base % currently sits at .448. But most impressive of all is his walk to strikeout ratio which is currently 6 to 5. Project that out over 600 at-bats and we’re talking about approximately 50 strikeouts.
I don’t expect him to finish with numbers that staggering but to keep his K’s under triple digits would be a major victory and he is certainly on pace to pull it off. On Sunday night I wrote about how Jackson might be a top 5 finisher in AL MVP voting this year. Would you really bet against him?
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