Austin Jackson busted on the scene in 2010, hitting .293/.345/.400 in his rookie year. Many critics pointed to his .396 BABIP, calling it unsustainably high and that Jackson was very lucky to have as much success as he did. His .333 wOBA and 104 wRC+ made him out to be a very average player and when he regresses, he’ll be shown to be a slightly below average hitter.
That is exactly what happened in 2011. His BABIP fell to .340 and so did his production: .249/.317/.374, .309 wOBA, 90 wRC+. He was figured out. The average of the two season was going to be more or less the type of player Jackson was going to become (maybe a bit higher production during his peak years); a .271/.331/.387, .321 wOBA, 97 wRC+ hitter with a .369 BABIP. BABIP estimators showed that Jackson would have a high BABIP, around .350, because of his speed. This was also consistent with what he showed in the minors.
Then the 2012 season started. Granted, he worked on his swing, removing the high leg kick. This would help him work on his timing and hopefully reduce his strikeouts. And it did. He went from having a 26.1% strikeout rate in 2010-11 to an 18.8% strikeout rate in 2012. What wasn’t anticipated, at least for me, was his improved walk rate and gained power. He was improving on his walk rate, 7.0% in 2010 to 8.4% in 2011. In 2012 it jumped to 14.1%. Walk rates are something that generally translates well from the minors. Jackson had a fairly consistent 9% walk rate in the minors, so 14.1% seems a bit high, unless Jackson truly has improved on his plate discipline.
The one thing that really confuses me on Jackson this year is his power. Jackson has never shown much home run power, but as he matures and fills out his body, an increase of home runs should be expected. His home run rate went from 0.6% in 2010 to 1.5% in 2011 and a big jump to 3.7% in 2012. His HR/FB has gone from 3.3% in 2010 to 6.9% in 2011 to 14.0% in 2012. This gives him a .321/.416/.556 AVG/OBP/SLG line. His ISO is an astounding .235; that leads the team that includes Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Is he really progressing at this rate, or has 2012 been unsustainable? It’s hard to figure out as Jackson is still only 25 and has yet to enter his prime seasons (which are typically age 27-32 or thereabouts).
His BABIP is back up to .375 this year. His approach seems to have changed too:
2010 – 24.2% LD; 48.4% GB; 27.4% FB
2011 – 16.8% LD; 47.1% GB; 36.1% FB
2012 – 19.7% LD; 40.9% GB; 39.4% FB
His line drive rates show why his BABIP was so high in 2010 and was lowered in 2011. However, in 2012, while his line drive rate has evened out, Jackson isn’t hitting as many ground balls to take advantage of his speed. I guess if you’re hitting for as much power as Jackson is, you don’t really need to.
A big problem for Jackson in the past was that he was a very streaky hitter. How much of that was because of the high leg kick is yet to be known. This year, he’s been fairly consistent (when he was healthy that is). Projecting Jackson in the future is going to be very difficult, at least until his production starts stabilizing. I never though Jackson was going to be a 25 HR threat and this year, given 650 PA, Jackson is on pace to hit about 24 HR. Since 1901, BABIP leaders:
Harry Davis - .417
Ty Cobb - .378
Austin Jackson - .370
Rogers Hornsby – 365
Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby are one of the greatest hitters of all time and Hall of Fame players. Lumping Austin Jackson into that group shouldn’t be taken lightly.
However, Austin Jackson confuses me.