Look Back and Ahead to 2013: Centerfield

Austin Jackson has been solid as the Tigers' everyday center fielder for three years now, and that won't change in 2013. The question remains, which Jackson will the Tigers get, the 2011 version that saw his average plummet, or the 2012 version with a strong walk rate and a .300 average?

2012 Recap

After posting strong numbers as a rookie in 2010, Austin Jackson took a step back in 2011. Following the conclusion of 2011 he went to work remaking his swing and approach at the plate. All of that led to a career season for Jackson in 2012. His season line went on to read .300/.377/.479 and he improved his OPS from .690 to .856. He hit a career-high 16 home runs and posted the best walk to strikeout ratio of his career. With the career year offensively combined with his exceptional defense Jackson went on to post a 5.5 WAR. The only negative to Jackson's season was the stint he spent on the disabled list. His time on the DL may have been a blessing in disguise as the Tigers discovered Quintin Berry and his ability on the base paths. While filling in for Jackson, Berry posted a modest .262/.319/.369 line in 84 at-bats hitting leadoff and provided the Tigers with speed and energy.

Deeper Dive: Jackson's Batting Average

En route to a .300 batting average in 2012 Jackson posted a high BABIP of .371. It's possible that his average will fall in 2013 but it may not be the drastic drop that took place between 2010 and 2011, given his career BAbip in the big leagues now sits at .370. In his three big league seasons Jackson has seen his walk rate go from 7.0% as a rookie to 10.9% this past season. He has also seen his strikeout rate fall from 25.2% as a rookie to 21.7% in 2012. In other words, the high BAbip might not be purely luck after all.

One of the big keys to Jackson maintaining a higher average could fall in his line drive rate. This past season he increased his line drive rate from 16.8% to 23.8%. With that in hand, he saw his xBAbip (or expected average on balls in play based on his mix of ground balls, fly balls and line drives) sit at .358. So maybe his average would be around .290 instead of .300, but if his line drive rates along with improved walk and strikeout rates hold, he'll remain solid.

2013 Outlook

Jackson will certainly be the Tigers everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter in 2013. Fans can expect to see him provide gold glove caliber defense in center and post solid numbers across the board offensively. Jackson is just entering his prime at age 26 and will not become a free agent until 2016. If he makes the roster, Quintin Berry will serve as the backup in center this season, with a number of others also being able to fill in on a short time basis if needed.

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