Good news: there are only two weeks until Spring Training. Bad news: there are still two weeks until Spring Training. Stay strong, everyone. In the meantime, let's talk about the best centerfielder in the American League who doesn't get moved to left field by late-inning defensive replacements, Austin Jackson.
#14 / Center Field / Detroit Tigers
Feb 01, 1987
What happened last season?
As mentioned in the lede, Jackson had a monster season in 2012. He posted career highs in just about every offensive statistic that Fangraphs keeps track of. The most crucial adjustment, however, was actually a statistic in which he lowered considerably: strikeout percentage. Jackson had 351 strikeouts in his first two major league seasons, but only fanned 134 times last season. While this may still seem pretty high, keep in mind that Jackson had 617 plate appearances.
We heard Rod Allen mention Jackson's swing adjustments with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon countless times, but the chasm between his 2010-11 numbers and his 2012 season is simply astounding. Jackson hit 16 home runs and had a slugging percentage of .471, both of which ranked fourth* on the team. I was surprised at how quickly Jackson's swing changes resulted in a power jump, but I'm definitely not complaining.
*Hernan Perez's .500 slugging percentage in two plate appearances wasn't included in these calculations for obvious reasons.
What needs to happen in 2013?
Superstitious types might like to see Jackson do everything THE EXACT SAME in 2013, down to the brand of his deodorant and what he ate for breakfast on August 5th. The rest of us will be happy from some semblance of consistency from Jackson, especially considering how dangerous this offense is when he is getting on base at the top of the lineup. It's hard to suggest improvement anywhere without truly getting into Mike Trout territory, but the one area where Jackson declined fuhrreal in 2012 was on the basepaths. Since the Tigers have already addressed that problem by hiring their own personal baserunning Obi-Wan Kenobi, I won't go into further detail until the Detroit News publishes a fluff piece on Mr. Kenobi during the Fourth Day of Spring Training When Sportswriters Inevitably Get Bored but Don't Want to Skip Work and Go Play Golf Yet (and yes, it is a government holiday).
2012 stats and 2013 Bill James projections
The part where I predict pretty much the same thing Bill James does
The bad thing about Jackson's numbers last season is that they are really hard to repeat unless you're really good at baseball. The good thing is that Austin Jackson might actually be really good at baseball this early in his career. Or, if numbers are your thing, none of Jackson's excellent 2012 numbers are so astronomical that they likely won't be repeated in someone's lifetime. You know, like 10.0+ WAR...
That mess aside, Jackson did more than just hit for more power and strike out less in 2012. The jump in walk rate is particularly interesting, as is his .371 BABIP. While a BABIP that high would scream UNSUSTAINABLE for most players, Jackson has pretty much established this as his norm by this point. Bill James has him at .368 this season, for what it's worth.
The one area where I think we may see a dip in production from Jackson are his power numbers. As I said before, I was surprised by the big jump in power from his 2010-11 numbers. It's entirely possible that his change in swing mechanics is solely responsible for the power surge, but I'd like to see another season's worth of plate appearances without that ghastly leg kick to be sure. Either way, Jackson is primed for another special season in 2013.