Key Stats: When the Yankees traded Austin Jackson for Curtis Granderson last year, they did so because they didn’t want a huge hole in their offense. If Brian Cashman knew how well Jackson would hit, I don’t think he makes that trade. Austin Jackson exceeded even the most optimistic projections last year, hitting a surprising .293 while stealing 27 bases and scoring 103 runs. These numbers made him a top 35 outfielder in standard 5×5 leagues. Consequently, he was one of the most important free agent pickups for fantasy players in ten team mixed leagues – particularly if they whiffed on some of their OF draft picks. For AL only and deep mixed leagues where leagues are won by finding value late in the draft, he gave fantasy players a significant advantage over their opponents.
Skeptics Say: Everybody who I speak with about Austin Jackson has the same comment, “Did you see his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last year!?! He was lucky. As his BABIP regresses to the mean, his batting average is going to tank. I’m not touching him in this year’s draft.”
While Austin Jackson did have an unsustainable .396 BABIP last year, people are playing the “regress to the mean” card way too hard. Jackson is going to have one of the highest BABIP in the majors because of his skill set. He hits an incredible amount of line drives – his 24.2% LD rate was tied with Joe Mauer for second in the league last year. He also is one of the fastest players in the majors, meaning that he is going to turn more groundballs into hits than most other players. So no, 40% of his balls in play are not going to turn into hits this year. Would it be surprising for him to have a .365 BABIP this year? Not in the slightest.
People also forget that, like most 23 year old rookies, Austin Jackson’s strikeout rate is likely to decrease this year. If his strikeout rate decreases to 24% (from 27.5%) and he has a .360 BABIP in this year, Jackson would have a batting average around .285 – which is higher than most people are predicting.
Peer Comparison: Jackson for Granderson in fantasy terms for just last season would have seemed crazy, but Jackson outplayed Granderson. Despite that, Tristan Cockcroft is ranking Granderson ahead of Jackson in 2011. One of the biggest flaws in Granderson that likely enabled the Tigers to pull the trigger is that he can’t hit lefties. In 2009, Granderson hit .183 against southpaws and last year he wasn’t much better hitting just .234. But while Granderson left town, the Tigers center fielder still couldn’t hit lefties. Jackson hit just .226 against them last year. Of the two players, Jackson is more likely to correct his shortcoming given that he is a right-handed hitter and the younger of the two players.
Another reason that Jackson is being ranked ahead of Granderson here is because of his lineup security. The Yankees can continue to hit Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher in the top two spots of the lineup and leave Granderson in a place in the lineup where he can’t be a big run producer or run scorer. Jackson’s name is essentially written in pen at the top of the Tigers lineup. At the end of 2011, Jackson will outdo Granderson in three out of five categories.
Team Outlook: The Tigers added Victor Martinez this season, a much needed improvement to their offense. The Martinez addition will add a few runs to Jackson’s stats as he’ll likely be stranded on base a little less often than he was last year.
Projections: Jackson will put up top 30 outfielder statistics but you won’t have to draft him nearly that high.
113 R, 6 HR, 52 RBI, 31 SB, .285 AVG, .755 OPS
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