It couldn’t come at a more opportune time either. The Cubs are in dire need of reliable hitting from the out-fielders.
2012 was not kind to Jackson as he posted a .175/.303/.342 triple slash line in 44 games. Those numbers aren’t pretty on their own, and we could just leave it at that, but it doesn’t answer why he had such a sharp drop in batting metrics compared to his AAA campaign.
The most notable of the differences in his play? His uncanny ability to strike out, especially swinging.
Jackson’s MLB strikeout percentage was a whopping 41.5% and posted a meager .37 BB/K ratio. So not only was Jackson being struck out in almost half his total at bats, he wasn’t being selective at the plate either. Some of these struggles can be attributed to facing better pitching in the MLB, but it again doesn’t tell the whole story. When we observe his swing percentages, you’ll note that he takes a cut at 25.8% of the pitches he see’s outside of the strike zone. While this is roughly average for any major leaguer, it’s making contact that’s the issue. Jackson was only able to fight off 48.9% of those total balls, which is lower than whats acceptable for any major league player.
Put simply? It means that almost half of those pitches that could have been balls, are now strikes. Consider he saw over 600 pitches in 2012, and you’re looking at a lot of extra strikes that really don’t need to be taken.
It all boils down to one problem: contact.
Jackson managed a 14.5% swinging strike percentage and only a 64.2% total contact percentage. Clearly something wasn’t working for him at the major league level and his mechanics stank of urgency towards the end of the season.
For a guy who was known to be fundamentally solid in his development, he sure didn’t look the part in a Cubs uniform. His stance was relaxed as it always was, but his trigger kick grew bigger and bigger. He normally then cocks his shoulders down and hips square with a slight drop, but there was no alignment to his swing. His hands stayed level but had lost the classic loft we had all seen in his scouting video, as if he was trying to muscle up to the ball too much. Balance and bat speed were never an issue, but it looked as though Jackson was trying to slug his frustrations away with one swing of the bat on every plate appearance.
If you’re interested in watching some video on Jackson, keep an eye on his hands. There’s a lot of extraneous motion in his setup while he was in the big leagues that never really was present before. This led to a lot of missed swings, especially on slow breaking balls where he would be well ahead on timing.
Frankly, it was hard to watch knowing his potential and how good he can be. He may have been nervous; he may have been anxious. We’ll never really know…
But, like any good athlete, Jackson has been working hard with the Cubs coaching staff this off season and has reportedly changed his swing mechanics. I’m unsure if it was a total overhaul or maybe a few tweaks, but Sveum is confident in Jackson’s abilities.
Jackson will likely start the season in AAA Iowa where he will almost certainly graduate to the major league squad in 2013. It will be exciting to watch if he has regained control of his fundamentals and can begin to be the impact player he can be.