Austin Jackson: Potential Offseason Target

Position: Outfield

2015 Stats: (Cubs & Mariners) 527 PA, .267/.311/.385, 5.5% BB, 23.3% K, 1.7 WARP

How He Fits: Austin Jackson came over to the Cubs from the Mariners on August 31st, playing mostly the corner outfield spots for the Cubs in the final month of the season. He earned a spot on the postseason roster and even got a start in the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. Jackson had a rough time finding his stroke with the Cubs—likely due to the full September roster that relegated him to part-time duty—hitting .236/.304/.375 in 79 plate appearances. That slash line would’ve been even lower if not for his hot final week, hitting 6-for-15 over his final five games.

The Cubs have an obvious need for a center fielder, and Jackson could use a short free-agent deal and a chance to bolster his odds of getting a better deal next offseason. In this way, he and the Cubs are a decent fit. He had played exclusively in center in his career between the Mariners and Tigers before playing the corner spots with the Cubs this past September. He’s been an above-average defensive center fielder and has good range, so he could slot in between Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler and perform at least as well as Dexter Fowler did with the glove in 2015.

Jackson’s best season came in 2012, when he hit .300/.377/.479 in 617 plate appearances for the Tigers. However, since that season he’s hit just .265/.319/.382 in 1,797 plate appearances over the course of the last three seasons. The right-handed hitter doesn’t have a drastic platoon split in his career overall, but he has hit left-handed pitchers significantly better over the course of the last two seasons.


vs. RHP

vs. LHP


462 PA, .239/.289/.333

194 PA, .299/.356/.379


347 PA, .259/.299/.358

180 PA, .281/.333/.437


2,624 PA, .278/.331/.402

1,133 PA, .261/.336/.393

His best use may be as half of a platoon out in center, taking the starts against lefties and some of the right-handers. Jackson has primarily batted first in the order in his career, however he’s not the ideal leadoff hitter at this point in his career. He does have speed and is capable of swiping a base, having stolen 17 in 2015 (while being caught 10 times, as well). The problem is that the Cubs prefer a high OBP at the top of the order and Jackson generally has gotten on base at a below-average clip the last few seasons. He’s best suited to bat down in the order, preferably sixth or seventh.

Why it Won’t Work: Remember that I mentioned that Jackson is not the ideal leadoff hitter? Fowler was the leadoff man for the Cubs, and his replacement in the outfield is likely going to need to replace him at the top of the lineup, as well. As much as Jackson has been used there in his career, it’s a step backwards to replace Fowler’s .394 second half OBP with a guy who sports a .319 OBP over the last three seasons.

One of the major focuses of the Cubs offseason is improving the contact rates, which were poor in 2015 and led to the team getting close to the major-league record for team strikeouts—the Cubs struck out 1,518 times and the major-league record is 1,530. Jackson does nothing to help this, as he has a 23.5 strikeout percentage over his career. To be fair, Fowler played his part in the strikeout frenzy last season, striking out 154 times. So while it wouldn’t exactly be a step down in the strikeout department, if the goal is to strike out less, putting Jackson in center field on a nearly daily basis doesn’t move the needle.

Another reason why Jackson doesn’t exactly fit with the Cubs is the type of pitches he hits. While he’s merely average against fastballs, hitting .263 with a slugging percentage well below .400, he crushes cutters.

jackson pitches

The problem? Not that many pitchers in the NL Central throw the cutter as one of their main pitches—or at all—outside of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jake Arrieta. Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha are known to throw the occasional cutter, so it could be fun to see Jackson in the lineup against those guys. But over 10 percent of the pitches seen by Jackson last year were cutters, as opposed to just five percent of the pitches seen by Fowler last season, for example. In the month that Jackson spent with the Cubs in 2015, he saw the number of cutters thrown to him drop considerably—only 25 cutters were thrown to Jackson during his entire stint in Chicago and only five of his 79 plate appearances ended on one of those cutters.

The vast majority of the starting pitchers in the NL Central throw a combination of a fastball, changeup, and a curveball or slider, which just so happen to be the pitches Jackson struggles with the most. This includes Wainwright, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, Matt Garza, Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, and Anthony DeSclafani. It could be the kind of thing that he simply adjusts to, but it’s hard to take that leap of faith.

Jackson was a very smart pick up by the Cubs last season, adding depth to the bench and helping survive the late-season injury by Soler. He’s solid on defense in center and is best served as a fourth outfielder on a good team. Replacing the production the Cubs got from Fowler in the second half of 2015—which not-coincidentally was when they went on their big run to grasp their wild card spot—with Jackson looks like it would be a big step backward.

If the Cubs front office truly believes that Albert Almora is the center fielder of the future and that he’ll be ready in 2017, then you might bite the bullet and sign Jackson as a placeholder until Almora is ready. But the Cubs are coming off a 97-win season, and I find it hard to believe that the Cubs braintrust is thinking about stop-gap outfielders to wait on a 21-year-old prospect. If they’re thinking about winning in 2016—and they undoubtedly are—Jackson isn’t the best fit for a full-time role.

Lead photo courtesy of David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

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2 comments on “Austin Jackson: Potential Offseason Target”

jan labij

I’d rather have Fowler.

Ryan Davis

I think anybody would, based on what happens on the field. But it’s complicated due to money and the other roster needs.

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