Last season, Austin Jackson was a pleasant surprise. As the centerpiece for the Tigers in the Curtis Granderson trade, the hope was that, over time, he would become someone that could replace the popular Granderson. Instead, he started strong and finished as the most impressive offensive rookie last year.
To top it off, he flashed some wicked leather in center field.
Last year, Jackson hit just below .290 with an on-base percentage of .345. For your leadoff hitter, that is just about where you want his batting average to be, although the OBP could be a little higher.
The biggest problem that Jackson had was that he struck out too much for a non-power hitter (170 K's), but the consensus was that number would go down.
Usually, players that do exceptionally well as rookies experience some form of a sophomore slump. Jackson started out terribly, hitting .178 in April with an anemic .252 OBP.
Sure, he has improved since then, with his June totals around more of what was expected of him (.290 BA, .355 OBP.). But his July numbers were down, and so far in August, he is back around his April numbers.
What have remained constant, sadly, are the strikeouts. He is on pace for 177 this year, which is ridiculous for a light-hitting leadoff hitter.
So, what's the problem? A wrist injury can only be blamed for so much. The problem is his approach. He has been trying to get his leg kick to synchronize with the pitch speed, but his timing is way off.
For those that follow Oakland GM Billy Beane's "Moneyball" school of thought, Jackson is a train wreck. He swings at bad pitches, has the strike zone of Vlad Guerrero and cannot get on base consistently.
The job of a leadoff hitter is to see as many pitches as possible and get on base. Once on base, his job is to score runs. As a rookie, Jackson scored over 100 runs. This year, he is on pace for fewer than 80.
Jackson needs to stop striking out, plain and simple. Otherwise, Leyland needs to move him to ninth and start hitting either Alex Avila or Jhonny Peralta in the leadoff spot.
You just cannot have someone with an OBP of .315 as your leadoff hitter. And, while leading off with your catcher or one of your best home run guys is unorthodox (not to mention Leyland wants that pop in the bottom half of the lineup), you have to have someone that can get on base batting first.
Right now, the Tigers are wasting their big RBI guys because the leadoff hitter keeps striking out.