Projection Series: CF Austin Jackson


Over the next few weeks, I will review Tiger players by position and try to project, using modern day baseball metrics, their expected performance for the upcoming season. Like John Verberg’s Prospect Series, this should be a fun exercise that gives a nice overall view of the Tigers big league club, in their quest to win a world championship. I will be using an aggregate of fangraphs projections, which are typically pretty accurate. I will also be using fangraphs WAR formula. Typically, they have ZIPS and MARCEL up as well, but for some reason they have yet to be published this year. Fangraphs also incorporates the reliable Bill James, RotoChamp, and also fan projections, which are surprisingly reliable. Using an aggregate of these projection systems should us give a nice middle ground. Without further adieu, here we go!

Aggregate Projection
674 PA 10 HR 61 RBI 8.3 BB% 25.9 K% .122 ISO .348 BABIP .267/.331/.379 .710 OPS +9 Fielding

Why he may exceed projection
Austin Jackson is going to have to change his plate approach in order to take that next step as a hitter. His success is far too BABIP dependent and in order to offset that, he’ll need to address three critical areas: improve his walk rate, decrease his strikeout rate and increase his power. Simple enough right? Not exactly. That’s the most difficult set of things to do as a hitter. However, Jackson is starting to enter the prime of his career, and if there’s any time to revise his approach it’s now. It’s been noted that he’s working with Lloyd McClendon to diminish his leg kick, which could definitely help. It’s also important to understand that after May 1, Jackson had a .263/.330/.399, after hitting for a .509 OPS in May, this may be a more accurate depiction of the type of production we should expect. Jackson did began to demonstrate more home run power last season launching 10 HR after only hitting 4 in 2010. However, his XBH total dropped from 48 to 44. I’d also like to see Jackson steal a bit more, he’ll have guys with high OBP’s and the ability to knock him in hitting behind him in the batting order. Stealing more bases always results in hitters seeing more fastballs and that can’t be a bad thing for Boesch, Cabrera and Fielder. AJAX should also should continue to take advantage of his improving skill as a bunter, he was among the top 10 in the league with 11 last season.

Why he may do worse than projection
Jackson has obviously shown a propensity to strike out, his complex swing mechanics make it difficult to maintain a consistent level of contact. He also stubbornly refused to use the entire field in 2011, something he did well in his banner rookie season of 2010. If he has another month similar to last season’s April, Jackson hasn’t demonstrated enough power potential to compensate for wasted 100 at bats. This is where he differs from someone like Ryan Raburn, who can put up a 1.150 OPS month to offset a .500 OPS month. With that being said, I think Jackson true talent is as a .720 OPS guy and he’s shown in his career, he’s pretty consistent with that performance metric. This is evidenced by the fact that of the 12 regular season months that Jackson has played, 8 of those fall between .685 and .775, with 5 of those months coming last season. If Austin gets into a funk though, and gets his strike out rate near 30%, combined with a few balls finding some fielder’s gloves, it could get a bit ugly for the speedy centerfielder (See 2011 playoffs). On a side note, there is no way Jackson gets to 61 RBI.

My projection

Once again, one thing reigns supreme here. Sure, it’s easy to say that Jackson will always be a high BABIP guy. Moreover, it made sense in 2010 to have an astronomical BABIP, because he hit 24% line drives, and 48% ground balls, which have the highest likelihood of falling where the fielders can’t catch them. Surprisingly though, last season he only hit 16.8% line drives, and replaced the remaining line drives with fly balls, driving his rate up from 27% in 2010 to 36% last season. His .340 BABIP, which looks a bit high for this ratio, is actually normal here. His xBABIP, or his expected BABIP (credit: Simple BABIP calculator) is .345 using his stats from 2011, and .361 using his stats from 2010. If his batted ball splits fall in between his 2010 and 2011 numbers, the projection numbers look pretty good. Aside from the RBI number, the aggregate is right where I’ll peg Austin Jackson for 2012.