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Austin Jackson wows with glove, bat

Every weekday between now and mid-November, we'll be looking closer at a Tigers player. For more information on the series, including a schedule, please check this post out.

When GM Dave Dombrowski traded popular Tigers star Curtis Granderson and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson last December, Triple-A center fielder Austin Jackson was the keystone of the return. If Jackson failed to live up to expectations, the trade would likely have been panned by fans and analysts alike.

From the start, Jackson made that a moot point.

Not only did he make all the routine plays in the outfield, he made most of the non-routine plays, too. He played Gold Glove caliber defense right from the start. His catch to maintain Armando Galarraga's perfect game may be the best defensive play he made because of the circumstances, but a catch near the end of the year where Jackson climbed the wall for an over-the-shoulder catch ranks even higher on pure technical ability. At the plate, he used his bat to hit line drives to all fields. He used his baserunning smarts to make the most of his hits and those of his teammates, resulting in a 100-run year as a rookie.

Sure he struck out a few more times than you'd want, and he got a bit lucky with where his balls in play landed. That doesn't really matter for my grades. When looking back I'm mostly interested in what he actually did, rather than what he may have been expected to do.

He should be the American League rookie of the year, though it's up for debate whether the writers actually ranked him above Rangers closer Neftali Feliz.

I debated whether he did enough compared to the rest of the league's outfielders to earn the A or if he was just a really strong B. You know what? I think he's deserving of the highest grade. That was one whale of a rookie season by the 23-year-old.

A.

At the plate

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2010 23 DET AL 151 675 618 103 181 34 10 4 41 27 6 47 170 .293 .345 .400 .745 102
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/17/2010.

The 170-strikeouts jumps out at you first. That's a lot. It accounted for 27.5 percent of his plate appearances, actually.

Then you look at this spray chart and think, "wow."

Jackson_spray_chart_medium

Source: TexasLeaguers

Just look at the way he puts the ball all over the field. As a player who hits line drives for nearly a quarter of the time he makes contact and hits ground balls in almost half, Jackson makes it even harder to mount a defense against him. The ground balls would be a double play risk, but as a right-handed batter with decent speed, he only hit into five of them.

Though Jackson's average and on-base percentage came down from the lofty point it was midseason, he still finished with respectable numbers overall.

In the field

Jackson's UZR shows he saved 5.4 runs more than an average center fielder, which resulted in a ranking of sixth in the MLB at the position. (By the way, Curtis Granderson ranked seventh.)

In the fan poll, Jackson ranked second overall on the Tigers, and first in instincts. He was second in his ability to field the ball, but only slightly above average when it came to throwing.

What 2010 tells us about 2011:

There's a lot to like about Jackson. There's every reason to believe he'll only improve as a baseball player over the coming years.

However, it's possible Jackson will take a step backwards in 2011 when you look at the results even if he takes a step forward when it comes to skill.

I say that because his batting average for balls in play was a rather high .396. Nothing about Jackson's game makes me think his BABIP will approximate the league average. Being a speedy, right-handed line-drive hitter means he's going to make his own luck more often than most players. However, maintaining a BABIP that high year to year just doesn't happen. As we saw with Jackson, it's hard to sustain a BABIP that high for an entire season. Jackson's average fell from .333 in June to .293 by the end of the season.

Jackson has always struck out a lot, but I expect that to fall incrementally with more MLB experience.

As for power, the talk has always been that power will come with age. He should show a bit more, but I wouldn't expect a great turnaround. Jackson just hasn't had a lot of power during his professional career, outside of his 2007 season.

Overall, he should put up a productive season, but maybe not as productive at the plate as during his rookie campaign.

Resources

I used Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs and TangoTigers's 2010 Scouting Report by the Fans.