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Can Austin Jackson’s season be saved?

Remember him?

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Before you answer “No!” consider the following:

  • His batted ball exit velocity of 88.2 mph matches his career average exactly.
  • His batting average on balls in play (BAbip) is .400.
  • Since May 17, when the Giants played the Rockies for the first time this season, he’s hit .282 / .333 / .359 in 42 plate appearances*.’
  • He’s switched leagues.

That last point is perhaps the most important one. The idea of switching leagues certainly sounds silly — a major league hitter is supposed to be good enough to hit major league pitching — but you have to admit that in the First Date between a pitcher and hitter, the pitcher has the advantage.

Austin Jackson has faced 78 pitchers this season and 67 of them he’s seen for the first time (although, it all depends on whether or not you want to include Spring Training, pitcher-hitter matchups for which I can’t find). 45 of those matchups have been a single plate appearance. Not all of them have ended in a strikeout, but a lot of them have, and that’s really the reason why his season has been so bad:

He’s striking out 36% of the time. When he does make contact, he’s hitting the ball hard slightly more than he has for his career (36.5% hard hit rate, which measures balls hit at 95+ mph). But that strikeout rate is 13% greater than his career average, and it’s very likely the result of switching leagues and facing new pitchers.

The other component of his season has been his defense. FanGraphs nebulous defensive measurement system says he’s worth -7.2 runs below average, meaning he’s cost the Giants nearly 1 win over the season based on his defense alone.

Statcast’s futuristic laser beam measurement system supports FanGraphs, however, indicating that he’s a -3% when it comes to outs above average. That percentage comes from the fact that he’s made no catches with a catch probability below 50% and he’s caught 81% of the probable outs when Statcast probability suggests he should’ve caught 84%.

You can play around with his defensive fielding charts through Statcast here, but from looking at it, he’s not getting great jumps on the ball or reading the hit all that well. That could very likely be the result of unfamiliarity with his surroundings.

It’s also important to remember that Jackson was brought in to be a backup and was more or less thrust into a starting role because of the manager’s comfort with veterans. But none of this is meant to suggest that he should be the de facto starter in left field or center (shifting Gorkys to left). He was maybe starting to get it going a little bit before Williamson’s activation, but ultimately, we’re not talking about a star player.

Jackson’s value is in the depth he’s supposed to provide. He hasn’t provided anything substantial on offense or defense, but the numbers suggest that he still can.

*- after May 22nd, he was benched in favor of Mac Williamson and when Hunter Pence came back, dropped further down the depth chart due to loyalty.