Perhaps lost in yesterday’s hubbub of Triple Crown awards and playoff opponent reveal parties was the fact that Austin Jackson’s 2-3 day lifted his batting average from .298 to .300.
There really isn’t any sort of statistical difference between .298 and .300, but the .300 threshold has played a significant role in the culture of baseball for decades. It’s the threshold above which one is unequivocally referred to as a very good hitter. And one would hope the first guy in the batting order – the guy who gets the most plate appearances in a game/season – would be a very good hitter.
One year ago, Jackson was thought of as somewhat of a disappointment. His .249/.317/.374 slash line wasn’t terrible – especially considering his defensive value in center field – but it wasn’t going to get the job done in the leadoff spot, and there was much clamor for him to be dropped to the seventh or eighth spot in the batting order. He didn’t draw a ton of walks, he had below-average power, and he struck out too dang much. He appeared to have great BABIP skill – .370 through his first two MLB seasons – but he simply wasn’t putting the ball in play enough to allow his ample speed to work in his advantage.
Word came out this winter that Jackson was spending extra time in the batting cages with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon focusing on his approach at the plate and eliminating his prominent leg kick. I don’t know how much of his resurgence can be credited to his work with McClendon and how much is his maturation as a third-year hitter, but the difference in Jackson’s slash line from 2011 to 2012 is more than noteworthy. He raised his batting average 51 points, he raised his on-base percentage 60 points, and he raised his slugging average by 105 points.
Quite simply, he went from being a slightly below average hitter with a plus glove to being a top-10 MVP candidate. We’ve heard an awful lot about Mike Trout’s league leading WAR total, but it’s not often noted that Jackson ranks seventh among AL hitters in FanGraph’s WAR calculation (5.5 WAR) and eighth in the Baseball Reference version (5.3 WAR). He’s turned himself into an all-around great player.
On a team chock full of disappointing hitters – Ryan Raburn, Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, Jhonny Peralta – Jackson was one of perhaps only two regulars to truly exceed our expectations (Andy Dirks being the other). Miguel Cabrera is the most valuable player on this team – and one of the top two in the AL – but calling him THE reason the Tigers are where they are is disingenuous. If Jackson wasn’t on the team – or if he repeated his line from a year ago – the Tigers likely wouldn’t have made the playoffs either.