Much has been made of Austin Jackson’s struggles at the plate last season and into the 2013 Playoffs, with good reason. The Tigers are depending on Jackson’s bat now more than ever, and much is being made of Jackson’s rocket shot start in Spring Training(his line: .563/.611/.938 with an OPS of 1.549, WOWZA). Working with new hitting coach Wally Joyner, Jackson is looking to hit consistently. He’s not looking to be a star when it really doesn’t matter, he’s looking to help fill the hole left by the departure of Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta. He’s looking for his natural swing.
What, exactly, is a natural swing? Well according to the internet and the million baseball training programs it offers, the natural swing is the swing a batter takes when he stops trying to swing in a certain way. Basically it’s batting from muscle memory and comfort. It’s swinging without thinking about swinging. Seems pretty simple, right? So why is it so difficult to do?
There was a lot of talk a few seasons ago when Jackson eliminated a leg kick from his swing, and his numbers, at least when it came to strikeouts, improved. Now the leg kick is back. Why? Because it’s part of Jackson’s natural swing. From all indications, Wally Joyner believes that Jackson’s key to success at the plate is more about letting it come naturally, not trying to conform his swing into something that he may have short-term success with but will eventually fail, because it requires too much thinking.
Think about your own life. When something isn’t going right, it’s very easy to become fixated on it; to fret and worry and second guess yourself before trying to force something to work out is human nature. So it’s really easy to empathize with struggling batters, like Jackson and Alex Avila, who have all the potential and talent to make something happen, but get bogged down over-thinking it.
I can imagine being Austin Jackson in the playoffs last year, trying so hard to break out of the funk. Knowing that with every strikeout or double play ball the walls get higher and the rut deeper. With the new approach of Joyner, Jackson is doing one of the hardest things known to man, he’s letting go. He’s stepping into the batter’s box and swinging without thinking, without concentrating on where he’s holding his bat, or how his hips turn through his swing. And so far, it seems to be working. The leg kick is back because Austin Jackson kicks his leg when he swings the bat. The power is back too, because when Jackson swings naturally, he connects. At least in Spring Training. Who can say what will happen twenty-two days from now, when the games count and every at bat matters. Jackson has the talent and the drive to be an All-Star, and with the help of Wally Joyner, he may just show us all this season.