For the Detroit Tigers, 2014 has been all about change. There are obvious changes like the addition of Ian Kinsler and new manager Brad Ausmus, but there are some subtle changes that are affecting the ball club more than some people realize.
Those subtle changes can be seen with center fielder Austin Jackson. Not only has he relinquished his position at the top of the Tigers’ lineup, but he’s also trying out a new approach at the plate. For Jackson, it’s all about simplification. Without the added pressure of batting leadoff, which is now Kinsler’s burden, the 27-year-old outfielder is playing a simpler game, and when you couple his new position in the batting order with the new batting mechanics, it apparently adds up to quality production in the middle of the order.
Strikeouts have always been a big problem for Jackson, and early on in his career, many pointed to his high leg kick as the culprit. He ditched the footwork in 2013, and it resulted in a career best strikeout rate of 21.0 percent. But this offseason, Jackson worked with hitting coach Wally Joyner on developing a comfortable swing, and Jackson realized the leg kick was more comfortable than the toe tap he adopted for the 2013 season. Jackson said it’s important that he does the move without thinking in order to promote a natural swing.
Kudos to Joyner, because so far in 2014, Jackson is boasting a slash line of .287/.367/.455, all career highs. What about the strikeouts, you ask? Well, apparently Jackson isn’t thinking about the leg kick at all because his current strikeout rate is 15.0 percent, which is 8.5 percent lower than his career rate. His walk rate is also 3.7 percent higher than his career number of 8.4 percent.
The new approach has also caused his ground ball rate (GB%) and fly ball rate (FB%) to trade places, which is odd. His career numbers for GB% and FB% are 44.3 percent and 32.7 percent, respectively, but thus far in 2014, his GB% is 32.2 percent and his FB% is 47.1 percent. His new role of fly ball hitter could benefit him, especially in spacious Comerica Park. There’s lots of room in that outfield, and Jackson loves to leg out triples, so as long as there isn’t too much air underneath his fly balls, we can expect to see Jackson standing on third quite a bit this year.