23 April 2012
No one was satisfied with Austin Jackson’s .317 on-base percentage from 2011. That wasn’t going to cut it from the player charged with setting the table for sluggers like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Prince Fielder. The obvious flaw in his game was the strikeout rate which ballooned from an already high 25.2% in his rookie year to 27.3% in last year’s sophomore campaign. The prevailing thought was that reducing the whiff rate would increase the number of balls he put in play which would, in turn, allow him to use his speed to get on base with more regularity.
His offseason work with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has been well documented. The big change was the elimination of the high leg kick. It was said that the new approach to hitting would help him reduce his strikeout totals as it would give him a better ‘two strike approach’, but I’m not really sure that’s been the case as of yet (or, at least, that’s not the whole story).
Jackson’s K-rate is currently the lowest it’s ever been, but the 23.6% mark isn’t all that much lower than his 26% career rate. But the real story behind Austin’s early season success can be found elsewhere.
A big key is the four percentage point jump in walk rate (up to 12.5% from 8.4% last year). Whereas it takes approximately a three percentage point reduction is strikeout rate to see one percentage point increase on OBP, nearly every bit of increase in walk rate is translated to OBP*.
*If each strikeout was instead a ball in play, and about one out of every three balls in play end up as a hit. This is obviously a very general approximation.
So, if we simply add four percent to Austin’s 2011 OBP (to roughly account for the four point increase in his walk rate), we would come up with approximately .357. He’s currently avoiding outs at a .366 clip, so that’s nearly the entire difference right there. (He’s also flashed a bit of added home run power, which works to boost OBP without inflating his BABIP, but we’ll wait to see if he can sustain some of this.)
His swing-and-miss percentage is the same 18% as it was last year, so it doesn’t look like he’s necessarily keeping himself alive deep in counts, but the new approach may be helping him get into better hitters counts to begin with. Perhaps the most telling stat is his percentage of 3-0 counts seen which has doubled in the early going of this season to 8% of plate appearances (from 4% the last two years). Perhaps the adjusted batting approach has actually most helped him to be discerning early in counts to get into position to draw walks.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.