Austin_Jackson_3

We learned from the Detroit Free Press back on January 20 that Austin Jackson had been working with Lloyd McClendon on tweaking his swing. The goal of the sessions, quite obviously, were (are) to help reduce Austin’s ample strikeout totals (he struck out in 27.1% of his plate appearances in 2011). McClendon was quoted by the Free Press saying:

"The key is the ability to adjust and go to a two-strike approach… those are things he didn't do before."

How well will the new approach work? It’s impossible to say. A lot depends on Jackson’s ability to retain the new approach (and that’s assuming the new hitting style ‘works’ to begin with), but what we can do is look at past strikeout kings and see how much they’ve improved in one season.

To do this, I found every player who had a strikeout rate of 25% or more (in a season) between the years 2000 and 2010.  There were 64 player-seasons that fit this criterion -- some players (like Adam Dunn, who made the list eight times) are represented more than once. Then, for each of the 64 seasons, I found the player’s strikeout rate the following year. Here’s the complete table:

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Season

Name

Team

K%

K% (Yr +1)

Change

2010

Mark Reynolds

Diamondbacks

35.4%

31.6%

-3.8%

2009

Mark Reynolds

Diamondbacks

33.7%

35.4%

1.7%

2008

Mark Reynolds

Diamondbacks

33.3%

33.7%

0.4%

2008

Jack Cust

Athletics

32.9%

30.2%

-2.7%

2007

Jack Cust

Athletics

32.3%

32.9%

0.6%

2002

Jose Hernandez

Brewers

32.3%

31.0%

-1.3%

2001

Jose Hernandez

Brewers

31.3%

32.3%

1.0%

2003

Jose Hernandez

- - -

31.0%

25.6%

-5.4%

2010

Adam Dunn

Nationals

30.7%

35.7%

5.0%

2007

Ryan Howard

Phillies

30.7%

28.4%

-2.3%

2009

Jack Cust

Athletics

30.2%

29.9%

-0.3%

2009

Russell Branyan

Mariners

29.5%

30.6%

1.1%

2010

Drew Stubbs

Reds

28.8%

30.1%

1.3%

2001

Jim Thome

Indians

28.7%

22.7%

-6.0%

2009

Carlos Pena

Rays

28.6%

27.1%

-1.5%

2004

Adam Dunn

Reds

28.6%

25.0%

-3.6%

2004

Mark Bellhorn

Red Sox

28.5%

31.5%

3.0%

2008

Ryan Howard

Phillies

28.4%

26.5%

-1.9%

2006

Adam Dunn

Reds

28.4%

26.1%

-2.3%

2007

B.J. Upton

Devil Rays

28.1%

20.9%

-7.2%

2008

Mike Cameron

Brewers

28.0%

24.8%

-3.2%

2010

Adam LaRoche

Diamondbacks

28.0%

20.9%

-7.1%

2000

Preston Wilson

Marlins

27.7%

20.9%

-6.8%

2008

Dan Uggla

Marlins

27.6%

22.5%

-5.1%

2004

Jose Valentin

White Sox

27.6%

20.7%

-6.9%

2002

Mike Cameron

Mariners

27.5%

22.4%

-5.1%

2008

Carlos Pena

Rays

27.3%

28.6%

1.3%

2002

Mark Bellhorn

Cubs

27.2%

25.4%

-1.8%

2010

Carlos Pena

Rays

27.1%

26.6%

-0.5%

2010

B.J. Upton

Rays

26.9%

25.2%

-1.7%

2010

Mike Napoli

Angels

26.9%

19.7%

-7.2%

2002

Brad Wilkerson

Expos

26.7%

25.7%

-1.0%

2009

Brandon Inge

Tigers

26.7%

23.1%

-3.6%

2001

Richie Sexson

Brewers

26.7%

20.9%

-5.8%

2006

Bill Hall

Brewers

26.6%

25.4%

-1.2%

2010

Justin Upton

Diamondbacks

26.6%

18.7%

-7.9%

2009

Adam Dunn

Nationals

26.5%

30.7%

4.2%

2009

Ryan Howard

Phillies

26.5%

25.3%

-1.2%

2004

Craig Wilson

Pirates

26.2%

29.0%

2.8%

2000

Richie Sexson

- - -

26.2%

26.7%

0.5%

2001

Pat Burrell

Phillies

26.2%

22.4%

-3.8%

2007

Adam Dunn

Reds

26.1%

25.2%

-0.9%

2003

Jim Thome

Phillies

26.1%

23.3%

-2.8%

2004

Carlos Pena

Tigers

26.0%

23.2%

-2.8%

2007

Brandon Inge

Tigers

26.0%

23.1%

-2.9%

2000

Jim Edmonds

Cardinals

26.0%

22.4%

-3.6%

2006

Ryan Howard

Phillies

25.7%

30.7%

5.0%

2005

Preston Wilson

- - -

25.7%

22.5%

-3.2%

2003

Brad Wilkerson

Expos

25.7%

22.1%

-3.6%

2006

C.  Granderson

Tigers

25.6%

20.9%

-4.7%

2005

Richie Sexson

Mariners

25.5%

23.2%

-2.3%

2007

Bill Hall

Brewers

25.4%

27.7%

2.3%

2000

Mo Vaughn

Angels

25.4%

26.0%

0.6%

2004

Mike Cameron

Mets

25.4%

24.8%

-0.6%

2010

Matt Kemp

Dodgers

25.4%

23.1%

-2.3%

2009

Jason Bay

Red Sox

25.4%

22.7%

-2.7%

2010

Ryan Howard

Phillies

25.3%

26.7%

1.4%

2010

Austin Jackson

Tigers

25.2%

27.1%

1.9%

2008

Adam Dunn

- - -

25.2%

26.5%

1.3%

2002

Adam Dunn

Reds

25.1%

26.9%

1.8%

2000

Jim Thome

Indians

25.0%

28.7%

3.7%

2005

Adam Dunn

Reds

25.0%

28.4%

3.4%

2007

Jim Thome

White Sox

25.0%

24.4%

-0.6%

2001

Lee Stevens

Expos

25.0%

21.3%

-3.7%

---

Average

---

---

---

-1.6%


As you can see here on the bottom row, the average player was able to reduce his strikeout rate by 1.6 percentage points in the year following his 25%+ season. For Action Jackson, this would mean a 25.5% K-rate (nearly identical to the 25.2% rate he posted as a rookie). As a counting stat, that would be 10 or 11 fewer strikeouts than we saw last season (and probably three or four more times on base).

Now, Jackson’s rate will certainly not decrease by exactly 1.6 percentage points, but that should probably serve as the basis for our expectations. It is possible, however, that we could see a more dramatic difference. 11 players were able to reduce their strikeout rate by more than 5%. The top three were even able to reduce their rate by more than seven percentage points, they were: Justin Upton (26.6% in 2010 and 18.7% in 2011), BJ Upton (28.1% in 2007 and 20.9% in 2008), and Mike Napoli (26.9% in 2010 and 19.7% in 2011).

But there were also cases of players going the wrong direction. 21 players saw their strikeout rate by any amount, and six saw their whiff rate increase by more than three percentage points. The worst three offenders were: Adam Dunn (an increase of 5% from 2010 to 2011), Ryan Howard (5% increase from 2006 to 2007), and Adam Dunn again (4.2% increase from 2009 to 2010). And yes, that means Dunn saw his already high rate increase by more than nine percentage points over the last two years.

Combining the fact the the coaching staff seems to be implementing a contact approach with Jackson with the fact that most of these super high strikeout players do see a decrease in K-rate the following year, it is more than reasonable to expect improvement, but exactly how much certainly remains to be seen. My guess is that we'll see no more than three percentage points shaved off of his rate, but even that would mark solid improvement. Assuming no change in Austin's BABIP from last year (could be an unlikely situation with an altered batting approach, but we'll roll with it), a 3% reduction in strikeouts could be expected to help raise his OBP from .317 to about .325. Not tremendous, especially for a leadoff man, but it would be moving in the right direction.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.