Before the 2010 season, the Detroit Tigers traded away Curtis Granderson in a three-way deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees. A key piece that the Tigers obtained in that deal was Granderson’s eventual replacement in center field: Austin Jackson.
Jackson showed why he was the prize of the Yankees farm system with an excellent rookie season that saw him hit .294 with 103 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. Despite finishing second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting that year, there was plenty to be concerned about with Jackson. He led the league with 170 strikeouts, had a mediocre .345 on-base percentage (OBP) and his BABIP was an abnormally high .396. If you don’t know what a BABIP is, it probably just means you have a life. BABIP is a sabermetric stat — think the movie Moneyball — that measures a players’ batting average when they hit a ball-in play. Jackson’s 2010 number was among the highest in the history of the game. The sabermetric freaks said Jackson’s luck was going to run out and they were right because in 2011 his BABIP dropped all the way down to .340 and his numbers suffered — he hit just .249 and his OBP plummeted to .317, leaving many to forget about Jackson in a 2012 lineup that included Miguel Cabrera, Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, and the newly signed Prince Fielder. However, almost a quarter of the way through the season, Cabrera is the only other player that has a claim as the Tigers Offensive MVP besides Jackson.
It’s apparent already in ’12 that Jackson spent the offseason remaking himself as an offensive player. Despite a more reasonable .379 BABIP so far in 2012, Jackson is off to an excellent start – hitting .318 with a tremendous .403 OBP. His walks are way up and his strikeouts are way down which are attributable to his improved plate discipline and shortened swing. He’s a catalyst that leads the Tigers offense and should be commended for his improvement.
The problem is the Tigers much poorer than expected start has completely overshadowed Jackson’s strong one. While nearly every other Tiger hitter not named Miguel Cabrera is struggling and Jim Leyland is deciding to break in Toledo Mudhen relievers late in one-run games and the rest of the bullpen is doing its’ best to ensure it will be able to show improvements the second half of the season, the Tigers’ lead-off hitter isn’t getting the credit he deserves.
For all the criticisms he received last year for his poor season, Jackson should be receiving accolades for his good season thus far. Unfortunately, poor managerial decisions and underproductive teammates aren’t allowing us to talk about his great start very much. It’s a shame because he’s once again looking like a cornerstone in center field for years to come.