In the “post-non-waiver-trading-deadline” narratives, it was thought that the Seattle Mariners had done pretty well for themselves. They were in need of a center fielder and they needed a right handed bat at a minimum and they managed to do just that, bringing in Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia without giving up someone like Taijuan Walker. The Mariners brass had to be particularly thrilled with netting Jackson, who would ostensibly man center for the foreseeable future.
For fantasy baseball purposes, Austin Jackson was a fringey 3rd or 4th outfielder on a decent team. A guy who historically had hit for average on the back of a great line drive rate, with enough power and speed to get you into double digits in HR and SB. As a lead off hitter, he had historically scored 90-100 runs with ease. The typical dread of a player moving to Safeco Field to see their offensive numbers decline was mostly mitigated by the fact that Jackson was moving from spacious Comerica to spacious Safeco, so no harm no foul.
At the time of the trade, Jackson was batting .273/.332/.398 with a 20% strikeout rate and 8.3% walk rate. He had just four home runs but 25 doubles and five triples kept his ISO right around his career mark and his wRC+ of 104 was about what we’d seen from him in 2013. After the trade, however, his bat went silent. From August 1 on, Jackson hit .229/.267/.260 with zero home runs, just five doubles, and a smattering of RBI and Runs. He did steal 11 bags, so give him that. But somehow Seattle managed to turn second half Austin Jackson into the April version of Abraham Almonte. What gives?
Looking at his results on a pitch type level, there’s no particular smoking gun. That is to say, there’s no particular pitch that just suddenly gave Jackson fits — he was an equal-opportunity void on all pitches while in teal and blue.
Of the myriad of things that jump out at me in comparing these charts, the ISO on fourseam fastballs, sinkers, and sliders is particularly alarming. Indeed, the sample size while with Seattle ought not compel us to make conclusions here, but to say that Jackson struggled to hit with the Mariners is as understated as saying Hunter Pence has personality.
Using the handy data over at Brooks Baseball, we can look and see if pitchers were approaching him differently in his time in Seattle. One theory I’ve seen more than once was that as a leadoff hitter, pitchers probably came at him with different looks than they did when he hit behind the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez (recall that he didn’t lead off much at all in Detroit and did so exclusively with Seattle).
Well, not so much. With little variation, pitchers were pretty much working Jackson down and away, with maybe a few more pitches away. So did Jackson offer at pitches differently than he did in Detroit?
That answer to that appears to be yes. He was more selective as a Tiger than he was with Seattle, and he appears to have offered at more pitches down in the zone as well as down and in. This isn’t necessarily damning, of course, provided that he could still hit those balls. Behold, his whiff rate before/after:
Yeeeah. That’s a whole lot of swinging and missing at those down and down/in pitches while he was with Seattle. It’s not necessarily that a 22% whiff rate on these offerings is a horrible thing for a hitter, but it’s a horrible thing for the profile of a hitter like Austin Jackson.
Lastly, it’s rather illustrative to look at his spray chart before and after his trade as well. Again, data from Brooks Baseball:
Before the deal, Jackson had a pretty nice distribution of line drives all over the field and the main part of his power appeared to be center to left center. But you look at the post-deal Jackson and those little blue dots to left center and center simply evaporate – and the majority of those accounted for his doubles while with Detroit.
The question of course is whether this is going to continue as a member of the Seattle Mariners because A) you know damn well Lloyd McClendon is going to keep running him out there in the leadoff spot and B) this is admittedly a small sample size. I don’t have the answer to that, unfortunately — but Howard Johnson, McClendon, and whatever other involved staff should consider this priority #1 if they intend to compete in 2015.
Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.