The San Francisco Giants needed everything to go their way this year, if they wanted a chance to make the playoffs.
They needed health. They needed bounce-back years. They needed breakout years.
They needed their offseason acquisitions to be difference makers.
It was a plan with limited margin for error, and no one personifies that quite like Austin Jackson.
Jackson was signed in the offseason for what seemed like a very nice deal. His role was to be the starting center fielder, or maybe the platoon center fielder, or maybe the fourth outfielder, or maybe the fifth outfielder. It was never entirely clear.
Put bluntly, he was bad. He was very, very bad. In 165 plate appearances, Jackson hit .242/.309/.295. His OPS was .604. His wRC+ was 68. I feel like that adequately paints the picture: he was very much not good.
Since the Giants were in the remarkably common position of being a non-contending team nudging up against the luxury tax, with a fifth outfielder having an outlier of a career year and a young prospect waiting in the wings, they dumped Jackson for salary relief.
When the Texas Rangers waived him, there was a rumor that the Giants might be interested in a reunion. Of course. What a silly idea, we all said.
Well, the joke’s on us.
Jackson signed with the New York Mets and apparently the bats or the balls are a lot bigger in New York. In an admittedly small sample size (35 plate appearances), Jackson the Met is hitting .438/.486/.688. His OPS is a Bondsian 1.174.
With this new hot streak, Jackson’s wRC+ has risen to 95, which would fit right in with the Giants. And while yes, it’s a small sample size, he had 25% as many extra-base hits today as he did during his entire Giants tenure. His two home runs in a Mets jersey are, according to my complex math, two more than he hit in a Giants jersey.
If I sound bitter, I’m not. Not at all. That’s baseball. It turns out that 165 plate appearances are not enough to determine that a previously good player is suddenly one of baseball’s worst (just as 35 plate appearances are not telling us much, either). I like Jackson, and he seemed like he had a good attitude, even when his playing time dissipated. I’m happy for him.
But it is a hilariously strong reminder of how wrong things have gone for the Giants, once again. With such a minuscule margin for error, San Francisco needed Jackson to have the outlier year he’s having in New York, not the outlier year he had in the Bay Area.
Ultimately it doesn’t mean much. In a season that’s increasingly looking lost (in terms of contending, that is), the Giants should be playing Steven Duggar and Austin Slater, not Jackson. Of course, if they’d kept him and he played like this, they might be looking at a decent return package in a return trade, but the baseball butterfly effect is a dangerous game to play.
Either way, Austin Jackson is apparently the NL’s Mike Trout now, and if that doesn’t embody the 2018 season, I don’t know what does.