04/05/11 5:51 PM ET
Jackson showing discerning eye at the plate
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
"Second at-bat against [CC] Sabathia," Jackson said, almost replaying in his head the strikeout the Yankees ace got on him on Opening Day when he missed a 1-2 pitch.
It's one of eight strikeouts Jackson has this season, topping all Major League hitters entering play on Tuesday. But it's one of 92 pitches Jackson has seen, also more than anybody in baseball.
Not surprisingly, the Tigers don't like the first stat, as Jackson is coming off a rookie season in which he led the American League in strikeouts. But there's also a thought that the second stat might turn out to be more important when it comes to making him a better hitter.
Through four games, those 92 pitches over Jackson's 18 plate appearances top all Major League players. Jackson was averaging nearly 5.5 pitches per plate appearance before his 0-for-4, two-strikeout performance on Monday dropped that average to 5.11. It's still tops by at least half a pitch among all Major Leaguers with that many plate appearances, and makes him one of just four big league hitters averaging five pitches each time up.
Two-thirds of Jackson's plate appearances have gone to 3-1, 2-2 or 3-2 counts. Seven have lasted six pitches or more. Only once has Jackson put the first pitch in play.
Long story short, Jackson is waiting on his pitch, and he's not afraid to go deep into the count to get to it.
"He's aggressive to the ball, and he's seeing the ball," hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said on Monday.
Not surprisingly, given those pitch totals, what he isn't doing a lot of so far is putting the ball in play. Between the strikeouts and the three walks, Jackson has put the ball in play seven times, with three hits, including his home run off A.J. Burnett last Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
"I'm definitely seeing the ball well," Jackson said. "I really wasn't squaring [pitches] up and putting them in play [in New York], but I fouled some pitches off and I got a chance to see a lot of pitches, which is a good thing."
If the ratios sound familiar, they should. Jackson struck out 170 times last year but batted just under .400 on the pitches he put in play, resulting in a .293 batting average overall and a .745 OPS. The difference so far, albeit in a small sample size, is the number of deep at-bats.
Though Jackson struck out at such a high rate last year, he didn't always take as long to get to strike three. About 55 percent of his at-bats went four pitches or more, according to Bill James Online, but he averaged almost exactly four pitches per plate appearance. He faced 0-2 counts 137 times last year, for about 20 percent of his plate appearances, and struck out on 37 0-2 pitches.
Again, it's very early in the season, but Jackson has had three 0-2 counts, and has gotten deeper into them each time. Part of that comes from fouled-off pitches, 16 of them so far. But it's also a matter of swinging less at pitches outside the strike zone that he can't reach.
"I think it's just about being patient and getting that pitch to hit," Jackson said, "no matter if it's the first pitch or if you do see, five, six, seven pitches and then [the pitcher] gives you a good pitch to hit. You have to be patient, but at the same time, be ready to hit your pitch.
"You have a zone up there that you're kind of looking for, and if it's not there, you just let it go. But the Yankees, they have good pitching, and a lot of [their pitches] are around the zone. You just foul those tough pitches off until they give you a good pitch to hit."
As long as he's seeing the ball well and reacting to it, McClendon is encouraged.
"We all know the statistic" on strikeouts, McClendon admitted.
The Tigers heard plenty about it last year, and manager Jim Leyland has made a point of saying that it isn't an overwhelming worry. If Jackson does the exact same thing he did last year, Leyland said recently, he'll be happy.
The expectation is that with a year of experience, that total will drop. McClendon isn't guaranteeing anything, whether or not Jackson continues to go deep into counts.
Where McClendon sees the pitch counts helping is the overall production. If Jackson gives himself the chance to walk more often, he has an opportunity to get on base more often for the middle of the order. If he can be selective enough for his pitch, stay alive on the pitches he doesn't like and be ready for the pitches he wants, he has an opportunity to keep a high average on the pitches he puts in play, even if he doesn't post another .396 average on those.
The numbers aren't showing it, but Jackson quietly likes where he is.
"It's a good start for me," Jackson said. "Hopefully, as the season goes on, I can continue to do that and start to put some balls in play."