The Detroit Tigers' Austin Jackson is off to a hot start in 2012. With a great start in the field and a .311/.392/.511 triple-slash, Jackson is currently tied for 2nd in the majors in WAR with Josh Hamilton.
Earlier, I wrote about Chase Headley when he was at the top of the WAR leaderboards and discussed whether or not he could sustain it. Now the man sitting at 2nd is Jackson, sitting at 1.8 fWAR and not just because of defense (which is always debatable when it comes to measurement) but also because of a very big improvement of plate discipline.
As a rookie, Jackson struck out 25.2% of the time and then in 2011 rather than improve, the number rose to 27.1% strikeouts. This was coupled only with walk rates of 7.0% and 8.4%. As a leadoff hitter and "speedster," Jackson will want an OBP higher than the .317 he posted last season so that he can setup the table for the big hitters like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.
Perhaps the addition of Fielder has indeed made a difference, because Jackson is walking a career-high 11.7% of the time and posting that .392 OBP. This has led to 18 R in 23 games, which would be a pace of 127 R over a full season; not something that is out of the realm of possibility for Jackson.
His rate of stolen bases is also the same as it's been over the last season as he's stolen 49 bases in 304 games. He should be good for 20+ again, but now you could expect that with Fielder added behind him he could easily top 110 runs.
The most interesting new change in Jackson's game though is his improvements in strikeouts and power. Let's see just how much he's gotten better in those areas:
Jackson has a career K% of 25.7% but he's cut down to 19.4% this season in 103 PAs. His contact rates are almost identical to what they were last season, with a slight improvement on contact with pitches in the zone and he's cut down his swinging strike% to 8.8% from 9.8% last season.
He's also showing unprecedented power.
As a rookie, Jackson hit 4 HR in 151 games and he upped that to 10 HR last season, which seemed like the pinnacle of what he could do. However, he's already hit 3 HR in 23 games and is posting an ISO of .200 which is exceptional for a leadoff hitter.
Changing his batting stance and approach at the plate this season, Jackson is reportedly much faster from home to firstbase and for a player with his speed, this should increase a number of categories such as: infield hits, which leads to more hits, which leads to more times on base, which leads to more stolen bases, which leads to more runs. Basically, Jackson could turn himself into a mini-Ichiro if everything breaks right.
The new stance and his lower leg kick have apparently also given him a little more power too.
If he can continue at this rate (his .373 BABIP is reasonable for a player of his skillset) there's reason to believe Jackson could be a 15-HR, 30 SB, 120-R, 200-H fantasy player in 2012. That's not just "mini-Ichiro" that's just plain Ichiro.
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