In the first part I skipped over Brett Jackson, but we'll talk exclusively about him in this part. In many ways Jackson is the most advanced hitter not on the MLB Cubs. It's entirely possible he's the most advanced hitter in the organization with a couple obvious exceptions: Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Jackson is a weird player and one that's difficult to project moving forward, but before we talk about that we have to find a place for him to play.
The outfield is currently made up of regular starters in LF and RF. Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus have basically started every game. CF has been more of a revolving door. Marlon Byrd opened the season in CF before being traded to Boston. Tony Campana and Joe Mather have done of the most work since. Reed Johnson is still hanging around the team too. The outfield situation is full right now, but that can be easily fixed. None of the players the Cubs have are guys they're going to have when they contend so any and all of them can go one way or another.
We've talked about Soriano and how the Cubs would have to pay a very large chunk of his salary to complete a trade. The Cubs have been willing to do this for over a year and still have found no takers. Joe Mather and Reed Johnson are irrelevant. Mather can play the infield and you're not going to hold Jackson back because of Reed Johnson. You just simple DFA Johnson and move on with life. Or you could DFA Mather, but I'm guessing the Cubs like his ability to play the infield. They might like his ability to play CF and hit right handed too.
Brett Jackson has shown he can hit both lefties and righties in the minor leagues, but we should expect the typical splits from him in the big leagues. It might be nice to have a righty who can play CF to spell Jackson on occasion. Maybe the Cubs just want to play him every day. I don't know. It's not a big deal either way.
While the Cubs are probably stuck with Alfonso Soriano they could trade David DeJesus and getting rid of one or both of Mather and Johnson isn't going to be too difficult. Tony Campana gets to stick around as the extra outfielder who can steal meaningless bases for the Cubs.
If you look at Jackson's wOBA, wRC+, ISO, BB% and a few other stats you see a guy who could potentially become a superstar at the big league level. He's been a very good hitter everywhere he's played. He's taken a lot of walks, hits for power, steals bases, plays a quality defense at a premium position and is still only 23 years old. But then you look at his strikeout percentage.
It was about 24% in his two stints at AA, which is more than worrissome. We'd expect it to go up at AAA and then again at the MLB level and we're hopeful that he can figure out a way to make a little more contact. At AAA, though, that's where the strikeout rate got way out of control. It was 29.8% last year and so far this year it's 33.9%. His walk rate has also taken a small hit, but I'm really not that worries about that.
From 2000 through 2011 only 13 times did a qualified batter strikeout more than 30% of the time. The good news for Jackson is at the top of that list is Mark Reynolds (2010, 2009, 2008). In those 3 years Reynolds was at 35.4%, 33.7% and 33.3%. Reynolds' 2011 season is also 7th on the list. Jack Cust is 4th, 5th and 12th. Jose Hernandez is 6th, 8th and 9th. Ryan Howard is 10th, Adam Dunn is 11th and Drew Stubbs is 13th. Those 13 have combined for 27 fWAR so you can still be productive despite striking out a ton.
However, only Mark Reynolds' 2010 season is higher than Jackson's current strikeout rate and that's in AAA. Current strikeout rate is more representative of a person's true skill level at 150 or more plate appearances than past strikeout rate. Jackson has 327 this year and over 200 last year so it's more than reasonable to estimate his true talent strikeout rate in AAA at about 31-32%. We're entering unchartered territory here. That's already higher than all but one player over the last 12 seasons. Realistically, his strikeout percentage is going to increase at the big league level and it may be safe to say that we're talking about a guy who is going to strikeout more frequently than any hitter has over the last 12 years. Any hitter who had the qualified number of plate appearances, which is important because we are hoping Jackson can have that many PA in a season (not this season of course).
Those 13 hitters who struckout at least 30% of the time also had an average walk rate of about 12%. Jackson's walk rate at AAA has been about 11%. Jose Hernandez's 3 seasons among those 13 really brings the average down though. The non-Hernandez group walked about 13% of the time. You can see that the guys who struckout a lot tended to also walk a lot. Jackson has shown that ability in the minors though it has dipped so far this year. Like I said earlier, I'm actually not that concerned about it. I think Jackson will take his walks.
About the only thing I can say for sure about Jackson and his strikeouts is that he's going to have a very low batting average. If that's your thing, you're probably not going to like him very much. The average batting average of the 13 who struckout at least 30% was about .240. Jackson is likely to be on the high end of the strikeout percentage. The fewer balls you put in plays means the fewer number of ball in play hits you get. Unless Jackson cuts down on his strikeouts significantly, he's going to hit for a low average. Unfortunately for him, many fans still evaluate how well a player is performing by their batting average.
We could be looking at a guy who hits about .235/.325/.425. That's not bad by any means. It's pretty decent production for a CF at the big league level. The hopes of him becoming a star may have faded as his strikeout rate grew, but he can still be a valuable player despite the strikeouts. Striking out as frequenly as he does is not good, but they aren't the only stat.