2014 Player Previews: CF Austin Jackson

It's been a bit of a rollercoaster career for Austin Jackson, with peak seasons coming in 2010 and 2012, saddled along with some disappointment, including a dip in production in 2013 across the board, with a lower average, less power, and a 40 point drop in his on base-percentage. Which version of AJax will the Tigers get in 2014?

Austin Jackson 2013 In Review

2013 Stats
Detroit 614 3.1 .332 .272 .333 .369 .337 .417 21% 8/4 3 -2

It's important to note in reviewing Jackson's 2013 season that despite it being a "down year", he was still a very productive player offensively. A .270-plus average is nothing to be ashamed of, he walked 9% of his plate appearances, and had an ISO of 0.15, a very respectable number for a leadoff center fielder. It's just that the 2012 version looked to be on his way to stardom, instead of just "good" or "solid", which would be fair characterizations of his 2013 campaign.

A key for Jackson will be his batting average, as that was a key influencer in the drop in his on base-percentage, contributing nearly 30 of the 40 point drop. His BAbip came in at .333, nearly 30 points lower than his career average, and nearly 40 points lower than 2012, along with his expected average on balls in play. Further, there's nothing in his batted ball statistics to suggest a drop – his line drive rate was actually up, his GB/FB rate was strong.

Where Jackson also saw declines were in the field for his defense, and on the base paths. Jackson pulled a hamstring in May, and ended up missing almost a full month. That no doubt had an impact on Jackson's ability to utilize his speed. Prior to the injury, Jackson swiped five bases and wasn't caught once. When he returned in mid-June, he only attempted seven steals, and was caught more than he was successful.

Defensively, the advanced metrics show a drop from Jackson as well. His defensive runs saved, which was as high as 29 in 2011, was barely positive in 2013, and his UZR/150 was actually negative. In 2011, he made 121 plays out of his zone, while in 2013, he made only 82. That's a lot of potential extra base hits that Jackson previously took away, but didn't last year.

2014 Player Projections

2014 Advanced Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 662 2.8 .262 .333 .335 .412 .327 0
Steamer 642 3.5 .275 .341 .347 .423 .339 2
Oliver 600 3.2 .270 .335 .337 .405 .328 5

Despite the outlier that the 2013 season was for Jackson as far as generating hits to get on-base, none of the three projections forecast a jump back to his .300-level in 2012. All expect his BAbip to remain roughly steady at around .330, and translate that to an average in the .270 range.

Likewise, his walk and power rates they look to hold steady, which again isn't bad, it's just not great. All of the services expect his stolen base numbers to take a slight bump back up, into the 10-15 range, but don't expect him to approach the 2010-2011 totals when he was more in the mid 20's in stolen bases. This is obviously a wild card with a new manager, in understanding exactly how often Jackson will have the green light to run, and how much he will be willing to do so, still with just one batter between him and Miguel Cabrera.

Defensively, there's no forecast of overly impressive performance, with the ZiPS even expecting the downward trend to continue and value his defense at simply average. This is assuming that the drop in productivity in the field is due to a loss of athleticism that isn't likely to return.

Overall, they all expect Jackson to roughly be a 3-win player again, making him a very solid starting everyday big league player. There's nothing wrong with being a solid everyday big leaguer, but without a jump in his offensive metrics and/or a return to his athleticism that manifested itself in the form of an excellent center fielder and threat on the base paths, he's not going to be an All-Star.

2014 Projections come from three different sources; ZiPS, Steamer, and Oliver, all publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers, and Oliver Projections from Brian Cartwright.

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