Austin Jackson Fits in Nicely With the San Francisco Giants
It wasn't too long ago that Austin Jackson's big league career looked dead in the water. After all, that's what an 81 wRC+ and -0.1 fWAR in 54 brutal games for the Chicago White Sox back in 2016 would do. However, the veteran outfielder turned things around last season with the Cleveland Indians, which he recently turned into a two-year, $6 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.
In 81 games for Cleveland, he put put together an impressive .318/.387/.482 line, which led to a 131 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR. There was more to his performance than that, though.
An Excellent 2017
Jackson's 2017 campaign did not only revive what looked like a floundering career -- it proved to be one of the best he's ever experienced in the big leagues. That 131 wRC+ mentioned above is the second-highest single-season mark he's ever posted, with only his 2012 season with the Detroit Tigers topping it (134 wRC+ and 5.4 fWAR) when he was an every-day player.
This spike in performance can be seen in many categories, too. His 10.4% walk rate and .164 ISO were his highest since 2012, while his 20.1% strikeout rate is three percentage points lower than his career average. It could be concerning that he did all this with a .385 BABIP, but having a higher than normal number in this department is far from foreign to the outfielder.
That .385 mark is only the second highest in his career, trailing his rookie season, where he posted a .396 BABIP. His career BABIP sits at .352 though 999 games, so while what his 2017 performance shows a clear rise that will likely fall back down to his career norm, it's not as outlandish as it'd initially seem. As someone with a batted-ball profile that's heavier on line drives (23.9% career rate) and ground balls (45.0% career rate), a high BABIP isn't uncommon.
Jackson is likely to experience some regression in 2018 since nothing much in his profile changed outside of his BABIP, though. His hard-hit rate (31.8%) was in line with his career number (30%), as was his swinging-strike rate (8.4% in 2017, 8.7% for his career), and contact rate (80.0% in 2017, 79.9% for his career). While it is not expected for Jackson to keep a wRC+ at the level he just produced, a fall to somewhere near his career line (.275/.336/.403, 103 wRC+) is within reason considering his underlying stats.
For the Giants, though, this signing is an enormous upgrade.
His Fit in the Bay
Even a career-average line for Jackson would provide a considerable improvement for San Francisco. The chart below compares his career line to what Giants outfielders produced as a whole in 2017.
As you can see, the Giants outfield was terrible last season. The recently-acquired Andrew McCutchen bolsters that quite a bit, but it takes more than one outfielder to raise up such a terrible unit. Jackson is another step in the right direction, adding a capable bat to a group that desperately needs it.
This also provides a buffer for one of the organization's top prospects. Witch McCutchen moving to right field and Hunter Pence moving to left, Jackson slots in at center field. General manager Bobby Evans expressed a desire to ease in top prospect Steven Duggar, and Jackson allows this to happen. He can start the season in the minors and platoon with Jackson once he arrives. Once he hits his stride, Jackson can be relegated to duties as the fourth outfielder, a role he has already thrived in with Cleveland.
Jackson is not the center fielder he used to be (-6 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) since 2013), but the Giants posted a -32 DRS from the position last season. Even with his recent struggles in the outfield grass, this is another huge improvement.
He'll slot in as the center fielder until Duggar is ready, and become high-quality fourth outfielder once Duggar arrives. For two years and $6 million, that provides a ton of value for the Giants.