Sunday, May 09, 2010

Jackson's Declining K Rate is a Good Sign

Much has been made of Austin Jackson's unusual early season statistics:

.370 batting average
1.24 K per game
39.8 line drive percentage
.511 batting average on balls in play (BABIP)

He .370 batting average - second only to teammate Miguel Cabrera - is causing the baseball world take notice.  However,  but some of his other numbers make it look like he's destined for a big fall.  His line drive percentage is almost eight percentage points ahead of second place Joe Mauer's 32.1%.  His .511 BABIP is 26 percent higher than his nearest competitor  - Franklin Gutierrez at .405.  Both of those marks are unprecedented over a full season.  Even Ty Cobb didn't come close to a .500 BABIP.  So, unless Jackson is the greatest hitter in the history of the game, we can expect those rates to decline dramatically and his batting average will drop with it.

Another indicator that his batting average can not be sustained is his high strikeout rate.  With 36 strikeouts in 29 games, Jackson is second in the league to Adam Lind (37).  Combining a high batting average with a high strikeout rate is no easy task for obvious reasons.  The good news is that his strikeout rate has gone down dramatically over the last ten games.  After whiffing 32 times in his first 19 games, Jackson has gone down on strikes just four times in his last 10 games.  The real Jackson probably falls between those two extremes but his improvement in recent games may be a sign that he is making adjustments that will help him avoid a massive rookie slump later in the season.

Beyond his batting average, Jackson has also showed some gap power.   His 13 extra base hits are third on the team to Miguel Cabrera (18) and Brandon Inge (14). He also has six stolen bases in seven attempts.  By all accounts, his defense in center field has been excellent, probably even better than advertised.  He's still not likely to hit anywhere close to .370 but a .300 batting average and .350 on base percentage are well within reach.  Combining his shrinking strikeout rate with everything else he does and Jackson is now looking more like a Rookie of the Year than a flash in the pan.

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