Every team has to have a goat, or so it seems. (This sentence sponsored by the National Goat Council.) Some teams even get to have more than one goat. Tigers fans can choose from perennial favorites like Alex Avila or Phil Coke, or newly discovered "talent" like Joe Nathan or Torii Hunter.
In years past, perhaps, Austin Jackson may have made that list. Twitter was full of #AustinJacksonStrikesOut hashtags last year, and the "KJax" meme enjoyed a long run.
But something has been happening with Austin Jackson lately, and while the results have not yet fully caught up with the underlying trends, there are good reasons to believe that 2014 will still be one of his best seasons on record. Here are 10 of those reasons.
1. May slump giving way to June improvements
After jumping out to a hot start in April, hitting .307/.391/.520/.911, Jackson dropped to .200/.239/.295/.534 in May. Part of that decline can be pinned on the fact that his line drive rate dropped 4 percent, while his ground ball rate jumped 19 percent. (A .238 BABIP in May probably didn't help either.) Both of those numbers are trending the right direction in June, as his line drive rate is up 25 percent, and his ground ball rate is down 12 percent, giving him a June slashline of .289/.354/.357/.711.
2. Highest contact rate in career
Since coming to the Tigers in 2010, Jackson's contact rate has climbed a few points every year, and in 2014, his 83-percent rate of contact is higher than it's ever been. That's bad news for the "KJax" meme, because the more he's making contact, the less he's striking out.
3. Third-highest contact rate on team
With a contact rate that's continually climbing, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Jackson is in the top three on the team. Only Victor Martinez (93-percent contact) and Ian Kinsler (91-percent contact) make contact more frequently.
4. Lowest strikeout rate in career
Maybe Jackson got tired of the #AustinJacksonStrikesOut hashtags. His strikeout rate this season is at an all-time low (19 percent). That's down from 21 percent last year. Every strikeout is frustrating when you're using a one-game sample size, but it's undeniable that it's happening less and less for Jackson.
5. Lowest O-swing rate in career
Fangraphs defines the O-swing stat as the "percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone." In other words, hacking. Jackson was swinging at 27 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last year, and that number is down to 20 percent this year. No wonder he's making more contact and striking out less.
6. Highest balls-in-play percentage of career
Last year, Jackson ended 67 percent of his plate appearances by putting the ball in play. This year, he's bumped that number up to 71 percent.
7. Highest pitches-per-plate-appearance of career
You like patience at the plate? Jackson is seeing an average of 4.15 pitches every time he comes to the dish. Not only is that a career high, it's above the league average of 3.87.
8. Sixteenth-highest line drive rate in the AL
How important is the line drive rate? According to Baseball-Reference, the AL batting average on line drives is .677 (as opposed to .168 for fly balls). Among qualified batters in the AL, Jackson's 23-percent line drive rate is good for 16th out of 87 candidates. (For reference, Miguel Cabrera sits at 11th with a 24-percent rate.)
9. Seventh-lowest groundball rate in the AL
Ground balls yield the lowest batting average of the various batted-ball types. Jackson has a 34-percent groundball rate, good for seventh in the AL among qualified batters. He is flanked on either side by Yoenis Cespedes and Edwin Encarnacion.
10. Tied for first in the AL in sacrifice fly balls
If you have to make an out, at least drive in a run while doing so. Jackson has seven sacrifice flies this year, which ties him with Billy Butler, Matt Joyce and Mike Trout for the most in the AL.
Austin Jackson had a career year in 2012, slashing .300/.377/.479/.856. After an unlucky slump in May this year, his slashline sits at .252/.316/.383/.699. Given these recent trends, however, it would not be surprising if he surpasses those 2012 numbers before this season is over.