We may look back at the best moments of the Tigers' 2014 season in due time, but the most surreal moment of the season was when Austin Jackson was lifted from a game against the Chicago White Sox in the middle of an inning on July 31st. Jackson would soon learn that he had been traded to the Seattle Mariners as part of the deal that brought David Price to Detroit. As he jogged off the field, Jackson received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Comerica Park crowd.
A fan favorite, Jackson was one of the more frustrating players to watch on the Tigers' roster. He had a tendency to go on prolonged hot or cold streaks, and his refusal to dive for baseballs in the outfield drove some fans up the wall. Jackson's shining moment as a Tiger came way back in 2010, when he ran down a seemingly uncatchable drive off the bat of Mark Grudzielanek.
In 2014, Jackson's defense didn't rate quite so highly. He was worth -4 defensive runs saved (DRS) with the Tigers, and his -7.7 UZR and -11.7 UZR/150 were both career worsts. Offensively, Jackson's season was as up-and-down as any player in recent memory. He hit a solid .273/.332/.398 with 34 extra base hits in 420 plate appearances for the Tigers, but had an abysmal .527 OPS in 236 plate appearances for the Mariners. Jackson stole 20 bases all season -- the third time he has done so in his career -- but 11 came in his 54 games with the M's.
Even the team splits don't tell the whole story, though. Jackson had a blistering .911 OPS in March and April, driving in 10 runs in 92 plate appearances. Primarily the team's fifth hitter at that point, the Tigers looked poised to lay waste to the rest of the AL Central.
Then, things took a nosedive. Jackson hit just .216/.273/.289 in May and June, striking out 47 times in 210 plate appearances. The excellent timing that Jackson showed in April -- complete with the once-defunct leg kick to start his swing -- was all but gone. Jackson's season-long OPS dipped down to .654 on July 1st.
Jackson took another 180 shortly after, collecting five hits in the team's next two games. This sparked an .894 OPS in the month of July, nearly all of which he spent in the leadoff spot. He scored 18 runs during the month after scoring just 20 times in May and June combined. Despite reaching base in 39 percent of his plate appearances, he only attempted two steals.
While the Tigers' decision to trade Jackson had little to do with him, his presence was missed. Rajai Davis hit just .263/.294/.369 as the team's primary center fielder, resulting in an OPS that a struggling Jackson matched through the first three months of the season. Given Jackson's potential for red hot stretches at the plate, the Tigers lost a potential offensive catalyst that could have been a big plus in the playoffs.
This grade would be much lower if we included Jackson's performance with the Mariners. He was worth 1.3 WAR with the Tigers, but finished the year with just 1.0 WAR after playing below replacement level during the final two months of the season. It's hard to project how he would have finished the year with the Tigers, but his hot July had some fans lamenting Dombrowski's gamble to bring David Price to Detroit. A 2.0 WAR pace is slightly below what many expected from Jackson, though a .730 OPS was a reasonable wish on the offensive side.