May 15, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson (14) hits a three run home run against the Chicago White Sox during the sixth inning at U.S. Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

Austin Jackson As A Legitimate MVP Candidate

A little bit ago, I was asked by a fellow Fansided writer, Harrison Crow, at Sodo Mojo (Mariners), whether or not Austin Jackson could be a legitimate candidate in the American League MVP race. I was rather non-committal at the time, essentially suggesting that he was easily the Tigers MVP so far this season, and I wanted to see where he was at in July. Well, things change, and I am fully ready to commit.

Austin Jackson is a legitimate MVP candidate.

Well, if it wasn’t for Josh Hamilton. Hamilton right now is in an orbit all by himself, but there is still a lot of season left, and Hamilton has a history of injuring himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent at least one stint on the disabled list at some point. Jackson himself is fighting an abdominal strain, and it could be something that could slow him down for a while, so we will have to wait and see.

Another issue that Jackson might face going forward is being overshadowed by his own teammates. Justin Verlander is the defending MVP of the American League, and while he isn’t dominating more than some other pitchers at this point, Verlander is still having a very good season so far. Miguel Cabrera is also a perennial candidate for the MVP, and most believe he will start to pick things up after a slow start.

In the here and now, however, Jackson stands out, not just on the Tigers, but in the entire American League.

As mentioned, Josh Hamilton leads the world in everything right now. His 3.5 fWAR is the best in the American League, and is due in large part to his power numbers, giving him an astonishing wOBA of .532. But guess who is 2nd in the American League in fWAR? That’s right, Austin Jackson.

Jackson has accumulated 2.6 WAR on the season so far, slightly ahead of 3rd place CF Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles. Interesting the top 3 position guys as far as WAR goes are center fielders, and it just might be that Jackson has the staying power out of those three to stay on top.

To stay in Hamilton’s zip code in the MVP race, a couple things are going to have to happen. One, Hamilton is going to have to come back down to earth some, and averages say he will. Two, Jackson is going to have to be able to continue to post the kind of numbers he has this season going forward. And lastly, a little bit of help from the health gods wouldn’t hurt either. If the abdominal strain doesn’t pose too much of a setback for Jackson, I believe he can keep up his pace.

The change in Jackson’s swing has seemed to allow Jackson to make better contact to this point. During Jackson’s first two seasons, he struck out at least 25% of the time, and has cut that down drastically in 2012 to just 18% of the time. The walk rate is up to 12.6% right now as well, showing a significant increase from his previous season of 8.4% The real difference is in the power Jackson is showing off this year. His ISO has gone from .125 in 2011 to .213 in 2012, and the change in his swing can be attributed to that. Getting rid of the leg kick has allowed Jackson to meet the ball out in front of the plate a little more in 2012, meaning that he is getting more behind his swing, as his weight transfer is being allowed to complete. Last season, with the big leg kick, his timing would be behind, and he was meeting the ball halfway through his swing, and ended up having a lot of soft hits to right. Essentially not driving the baseball.

Given that the top 3 contenders for WAR are center fielders, we can do a side by side comparison at this point. Again, Hamilton wins in a landslide if the competition were to end today. His offensive numbers are off the chart. However, it doesn’t end today, and going forward, at least defensively and base running wise, I would give Jackson the nod to be able to keep up his season. Jackson has always been a plus defender in CF, while Adam Jones typically isn’t. So far this season, Jones has been playing a tremendous CF, but these things tend to even out, and it will lower his overall fWAR at some point. Hamilton also isn’t near the defender Jackson is in CF, but he splits him time in LF, where he tends to be plus. Again though, Jackson’s history suggests he is the best defender of the three by a good margin, meaning has an advantage in that arena.

I also believe Jackson to be the best base runner of the three, and hitting in the lead off spot with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitting behind him, means he is going to score a bunch of runs. Especially if he continues to get on base at around 40% of the time. Even 38% of the time would be fantastic for Jackson. His success rate stealing bases is fantastic as well.

But no matter how well Jackson plays, let’s not act like there isn’t other factors involved in picking the MVP. WAR certainly isn’t the determining factor, though I believe it is something that people are taking strongly into consideration these days. Hype, where you play, and how well the team is doing are going to be factors as well. If the Tigers begin playing well as the season goes on, and the Tigers start running away with things, Jackson’s season will be seen as a main reason for that, and it will vault him into the national discussion. That is, if he continues what he is doing.

But how many of you knew that Jackson was 2nd in the American League in WAR to Hamilton? That is going to be part of the issue he will need to overcome. Notoriety for what he is doing.

Josh Hamilton may run away with the MVP trophy in 2012, and that is okay, he deserves it right now, but we should still acknowledge that Austin Jackson right now is becoming one of the best overall players in baseball right in front of our eyes.

Let’s hope this injury doesn’t prevent him from staying that way.

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Tags: Adam Jones Austin Jackson Detroit Tigers Josh Hamilton

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