Austin Jackson is the driving force that powers the Detroit Tigers.
There are better hitters in the lineup, like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, and fielders with better arms, like Torii Hunter, but Jackson is the player that everything revolves around.
The Tigers are 26-18 with Jackson in the lineup and only 16-15 without him.
After the best offensive season of his career in 2012, Jackson was struggling somewhat to start this year, hitting .272 with just two home runs and 11 RBI in 34 games before going on the disabled list on May 12 with a pulled hamstring.
Since his return to the lineup on June 14, Jackson has caught fire, batting .447 with a home run and six RBI in 10 games and he’s notched multiple hits in six of those games. He’s also scored 12 runs and earned eight walks compared to only four strikeouts.
But Jackson’s individual improved production isn’t the only thing his triumphant return has brought to the table. His mere presence makes everyone behind him in the order better.
In their last 10 games, the two players behind Jackson in the lineup, Hunter and Cabrera, have averaged .358 and .461, respectively.
Jackson is the player that puts the wheels in motion for everyone behind him to follow, and he usually does it right from the start. In the first inning this season, Jackson is batting .359 with a .419 on-base percentage and has scored 13 runs.
From a pure comparison standpoint, Jackson brings so much more to the table than the guys replacing him.
Andy Dirks has done most of the leadoff hitting when Jackson is out of the lineup. In 22 games as the leadoff hitter, Dirks is averaging .278 with two home runs, 12 RBI, 12 runs scored and only two walks compared to 15 strikeouts. Jackson is batting .307 in the leadoff spot and has scored over a run per game, while only striking out about twice as much as he walks.
With the Tigers’ bullpen situation in the current uneasy state that it’s in—to put it kindly—it’s extremely important for Detroit to get off to good starts so there’s less pressure on the pitching staff.
Jackson's defense also takes a bit of pressure off the pitching staff as well. Jackson is the best overall defensive outfielder on the team, and is far and away better defensively than anyone who replaces him in center field.
Jackson makes everyone’s job a little easier, especially that of his manager, Jim Leyland.
With him, the Tigers are almost guaranteed to win their third consecutive American League Central title. Without him, Detroit advancing to the playoffs is a question mark.
Despite all the star power they possess, without Jackson, the Tigers are just average.