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AustinJacksonWe received the obligatory article this offseason about Austin Jackson. About how he spent extra time in the batting cages with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. About how he was changing his style of hitting to gain a better ‘two-strike’ approach. And about how he was becoming really comfortable with the adjustment.

But early returns so far this spring give us little hope that change will make any difference for Jackson. With two strikeouts yesterday, his total has climbed to ten in nine games. That’s an absurd 37% strikeout rate in his 27 plate appearances. He’ll need to be strikeout free for his next ten PA’s just to bring that down to last season’s (high) 27% rate.

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The positive news for Austin is that his overall numbers don’t look that bad. His .370 OBP looks fantastic – thanks to a very nice 15% walk rate – but his ‘batting’ numbers (including his .261 average) are actually getting a boost from a high .417 batting average on balls in play. Adjusting that BABIP down to .340 (while keeping the K and BB rates) would drop his .370 OBP down to .336. That’s wouldn’t be a bad OBP, especially after what we saw last year, but I think that would be ranging toward the low end for a truly effective leadoff hitter.

Now it’s incredibly unlikely, if not impossible, that anyone could keep up a 37% strikeout rate for a season, but I’m not going to hold my breath for much improvement over the 27% and 25% rates he’s put up the last two years. Does that mean the Tigers are doomed to another season of sub-par on base percentage from the leadoff spot? Not necessarily.

Assuming he can maintain a high BABIP in the .340 range – a big assumption, as that’s pretty high – then the walk rate could be the real key here. I’m obviously dissecting small samples of spring training stats here (what would be the fun in not doing that?), but his walk rate is keeping his spring ‘success’ afloat. 15% is pretty high, but it’s not impossibly high; baseball’s walk leaders were right around that mark last year. Of course, many of them are also power hitters that get pitched around from time to time, but Austin’s at least in the range of plausibility. If he can get his walk rate up near 12% (from 9% last year and 8% the year before, so no small feat) then he could be looking at an OBP in the high .330’s or low .340’s even without a real drop in strikeouts. I think we’d all take that in a heartbeat.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.