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AustinJackson2Lynn Henning has a Detroit News article out today in which he extols the virtues of Austin Jackson’s changed batting approach. Henning admits that Jackson’s 11 strikeouts in 29 at-bats don’t look very good (as I pointed out the other day), but he quickly dismisses the 32% strikeout rate as not being an issues because of “a different circumstance from 2011”.

I can’t imagine what the “different circumstance” would really be besides the fact that he’s currently racking up the whiffs in spring training, which means he’s likely facing inferior pitching. I guess Henning is trying to argue that Jackson is smacking the ball hard, so he’s looking like a “better hitter” right now than he did at any point last season, even though his strikeout numbers are still sky-high. But I think he’s well off-base with what he’s trying say. Here’s the money quote:

“Jackson, if anything, has been dealing with bad luck after two weeks in the Grapefruit League. He scorched a grounder and a line drive at the shortstop against the Cardinals on Saturday, and came away with zeros.”

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Sure, it may appear that Jackson is getting unlucky with some hard-hit balls falling into gloves on occasion, but the truth is that it’s impossible to support this claim. His batting average on balls in play this spring is a robust .412. I took a quick peek at career BABIP numbers since 1990, and no player with 2,000 or more plate appearances has had a BABIP better than .355. Jackson’s numbers in his young career suggest that his BABIP skill is on the higher end, but .412 is well north of what he could be expected to do. If anything, Austin has been pretty lucky on balls in play this spring.

In fact, if we take Jackson’s spring numbers to date, and regress them to a BABIP of .340, then his slash line falls to: .234/.317/.366. That’s nearly identical to the numbers he ended up with last year (.249.319/.374).

So, while the numbers appear on the surface to indicate that Jackson’s hitting has turned a corner, I don’t think the stats really tell us that. If anything, they tell us that we should expect more of the same from the Tigers’ leadoff man.

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