Hovering around replacement level in several categories does have its value. Despite offering near replacement level production in three of the five roto categories, Austin Jackson was still the 41st most valuable outfielder this year. That made him a solid fourth outfielder on fantasy teams even though he really only stood out in one category, runs scored. However, it was quite a fall from his performance in 2012, when he earned the 19th highest fantasy value. Jackson will need to return to being more than a one category contributor to make his fantasy owners happy, but can he?
When Jackson debuted in 2010, he displayed little power (.107 ISO), but excellent speed, as he stole 27 bases in 33 tries, knocked 10 triples and recorded a 7.9 Spd score. But ever since, each of those skills have trended in the opposite direction as his speed has declined and power increased. That’s not so surprising, of course, as that’s exactly the way those skills age.
Jackson stole just 8 bases this season in 12 attempts, but his speed didn’t disappear. Blame the Tigers philosophy on the base paths, as they ranked last in baseball in stolen base attempts. And who could blame Jim Leyland for maintaining the red light when he has the best hitter in baseball hitting third? With Leyland having retired and rookie manager Brad Ausmus taking over, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the Tigers will run more frequently next season. That instantly gives Jackson nice profit potential though as he’ll likely be priced assuming about 10 steals. If the team steals more often, Jackson should be a primary beneficiary.
When Jackson was still a minor leaguer in the Yankees system, the thought was that he would eventually develop power. While he has improved upon his output during his rookie campaign, his power retreated this year after a surge in 2012. Interestingly, his batted ball distance has been above the league average during all four seasons of his career, and in the last three his distances have been nearly identical. This suggests that he is quite capable of consistently posting HR/FB rates of 11%+, which is what he posted in 2012.
Jackson has made a career out of extremely high BABIP marks, as he sports a career .361 mark and posted as high as a .396 mark, which came during his rookie year. Obviously, hitters who rely on high BABIPs are riskier and we see that illustrated perfectly by Jackson, whose batting average has jumped all over the place from a low of .249 to a high of .300. He does have the skill set to maintain high BABIP marks given his line drive and ground ball heavy batted ball distribution with few pop-ups, along with average power and good speed. Since 2011, his xBABIP marks have sat at .327, .336 and .353. On average, that’s only slightly lower than his actual BABIP marks, which validates his ability to post an inflated BABIP.
One of the biggest question marks surrounding Jackson next year resulted from the acquisition of Ian Kinsler. With the second baseman set to bat at the top of the lineup, either Torii Hunter or Jackson will be dropped toward the bottom half of the lineup. If Jackson is the choice, it’s going to reduce his plate appearances, which will take a bite out of all his counting stats and fantasy value.
Given the slight power upside and more sizable stolen base upside, Jackson would be a reasonable target if you can essentially pay for his 2013 stats. However, much of his 2014 fantasy value will hinge on where he hits in the lineup and we likely won’t find that out until spring training. He’ll be a much better pick hitting first or second than closer to the bottom of the order.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.