When Justin Verlander takes the mound for the Detroit Tigers Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he will be without his best player behind him — Austin Jackson.
You might think I’m talking defensively, but Jackson is actually the Tigers’ best player — period. Jackson is leading the team in the WAR metric with a 2.6, the next closest being Verlander with a 2.0. After the reigning MVP is surprise Andy Dirks with a 1.2. Miguel Cabrera has a 0.8 and Prince Fielder is right behind him with a 0.7 (rookie pitcher Drew Smyly also has a 0.7 WAR).
Of course, you wouldn’t know this because the Tigers’ household names are Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder. In fact, Jackson is arguably the third most talked about outfielder on the team — Delmon Young’s arrest and subsequent suspension thrust him into the spotlight and Brennan Boesch has been discussed quite a bit because his bat was expected to be the biggest beneficiary after the Fielder signing.
Jackson’s season thus far garners much more attention, though, far beyond the Tigers. By the same WAR metric, he’s third in all of baseball, only behind Josh Hamilton and David Wright. After hitting just .249/.317/.690 and striking out in over 27-percent of his at bats in his second big league season, Jackson worked diligently with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon during the offseason to change his stance and overall approach at the plate. It has paid incredible dividends thus far, as his line is now .331/.414/.958 with a strikeout rate of just over 18-percent and a walk rate up to 12.6-percent from 8.4-percent a year ago.
Jackson is currently day-today with a mild abdominal strain, an injury that could be a nagging issue for the rest of thes season. Hopefully, he returns fully healthy and continues his torrid pace. Jackson could be the (deserving) starting CF in the All-Star Game and … well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.