Brett Jackson strikes out a lot. That should be clear since he was leading AAA with 158 strikeouts prior to his callup, and is in the middle of a stretch of 9 straight plate appearances without putting a ball in play (8 K, 1 BB). The Cubs are going to continue to play Brett Jackson and we are going to get to continue to invent creative nicknames with K for Brett Jackson. The quote from a Carrie Muskat article has Dale Sveum’s opinion on the matter, “I’m not surprised he’s had some strikeouts. We knew that was going to happen. We’re learning a lot about him, and it’s basically come down to swinging out of the strike zone. It’s not like he’s swinging through anything.” Scouts on the other hand have suggested that Brett Jackson has a problem making consistent contact with pitches in the strike zone, especially breaking pitches.
Brett Jackson has 13 plate appearances in the big leagues, and it is certainly not enough to know what Brett Jackson is going to be at the major league level. However, looking at each plate appearance will be able to give us a better idea if Sveum is right about KJax’s, see what I mean about those nicknames starting, problems making consistent contact.
First Plate Appearance: The Cubs were facing the Dodgers consolation prize for lowballing the Cubs on Ryan Dempster, Joe Blanton. Brett Jackson faced two fastballs that were on the very edge of the strikezone. The first pitch was a called strike on a 92 mph fastball. Jackson swung on and made contact with a 93 mph fastball that might have been just inside the strikezone. The contact dribbled off of Jackson’s foot down the line to James Looney who stepped on first base. This foul ball was called fair for the easy out. This led to Bob Brenly remarking that, “Brett Jackson’s first big league AB ends getting hosed by the umpire. Get used to it, kid”.
Second Plate Appearance: Brett Jackson saw four pitches. Each pitch was called a ball in this sequence. Blanton threw a cutter to start the sequence which was probably a strike. He also threw another sinker that was also borderline. Blanton finished the walk by throwing a sinker that was well outside for Jackson’s first walk. Expect to see quite a few walks along with the strikeouts
Third Plate Appearance: Blanton started Jackson off with a pitch on the lower outside side of the plate for the third straight plate appearance. Jackson fouled off the 90 mph sinker. Blaton threw the first breaking ball BJax has faced with a curveball outside. He fouled off a changeup in the lower corner of the zone, and watched a high sinker for a ball. Jackson swung twice more in the plate appearance fouling off a curveball and driving a changeup that caught a ton of plate for a single. Jackson through his first three plate appearance had swung at 5 pitches and had made contact with all 5.
Fourth Plate Appearance: The first non-Blanton PA came against left handed reliever Randy Choate. The first pitch was a sinker that was well inside that Jackson took for a ball. The next pitch was a sinker in the middle of the plate that Jackson drove for his first extra base hit in the big leagues. That made it 6 pitches that Jackson swung at and he had yet to miss. This plate appearance shows that he was capable of punishing a mistake pitch.
Fifth Plate Appearance: Reliever Ronald Belisario dispatched of Brett Jackson on three pitches. This was the start of his inability to make contact with pitches. Jackson fouled off the first pitch that was in the middle of the plate but up. He swung and missed on the sinker at the top of the zone and watched a called strike 3 on the inside corner. A few things stand out about this PA in that Belisario was the first pitcher that could dial it up to the mid-90s and was trying to work Jackson up in the zone. Swing number 8 was the first time that Jackson did not make contact with the ball.
Sixth Plate Appearance:
Brett Jackson was the leadoff hitter against left handed starter Eric Stults in his second game. Stults would work Jackson on the outside of the plate with one pitch in the strikezone according to Gameday. Jackson would foul off that fastball, and the next pitch would prove to be pivotal. A slider outside of the strikezone would be called a strike, and Jackson would protect the plate in the next three pitches. He was able to foul off a high outside slider and a low inside changeup, but was unable to make contact on a slider low and outside. That would be the second consecutive strikeout for Jackson.
Seventh Plate Appearance: Stults started Jackson with two middle of the plate curveballs. The first pitch was a little low, but called a strike. Stults followed it up with a slightly lower curveball that Jackson swung and missed on. A wasted fastball was taken high, and he tried to get Jackson on a low outside slider. These two pitches brought the count back to 2-2. A couple more offspeed pitches resulted in a 3-2 count, but Stults got Jackson to swing through a fastball at the top of the zone for his third consecutive strikeout.
Eighth Plate Appearance: Stults got Jackson on three straight sliders. The first pitch was taken for a strike on the outside corner of the plate. Jackson fouled off a slider in the middle of the plate but slightly low, and he couldn’t hold up on a slider that Stults buried in the dirt. That made four consecutive strikeouts.
Ninth Plate Appearance: Right handed reliever Dale Thayer started Jackson off with a fastball called strike. Brett Jackson swung and missed on a slider low outside of the zone. Jackson worked the count full by taking three breaking balls well outside of the zone, but missed on a slider that was a little low.
Tenth Plate Appearance: Right hander Ross Ohlendorf was the sixth pitcher that Brett Jackson faced. Ohlendorf got a generous called strike on a low outside fastball to start the plate appearance. Jackson took a called strike on a slider on the second pitch. Ohlendorf threw a low slider that Jackson easily laid off of, but got him for his sixth straight strikeout on a slider in the zone.
Eleventh Plate Appearance: Jackson tried to bunt for a basehit but missed a fastball well outside of the strikezone. Jackson takes four pitches that were called balls. The third pitch was a high slider that was in the strikezone, but it was called a ball. This walk broke up the string of strikeouts, but he still hadn’t made an out or reached base by making contact in seven plate appearances.
Twelfth Plate Appearance: Ohlendorf threw a low outside fastball for a ball, but got a strike called on a low fastball. He got another called strike on a slider in the strikezone, and Jackson swung at the next four pitches. He fouled off a slider near the called strike on the previous pitch, a high change up and a low fastball that was in a similar spot to the called strike. A slider even lower than the second and fifth pitch fastballs got Jackson to swing and miss for his seventh strikeout.
Thirteenth Plate Appearance: Left handed reliever Alex Hinshaw threw four sliders and got Brett Jackson to strikeout for the eighth time. This plate appearance was the most painful of the 13 of Brett Jackson’s short professional career. The first and fourth sliders were well outside of the zone, but equally concerning was Jackson missing the slider that was in the strike zone.
Summary: Brett Jackson has a swinging strike percentage of 18.0%. The only player in the majors that has a higher percentage than that is Josh Hamilton at 19.1%. The next closest players are at 15.1% and 15.0%. Jackson is only swinging at 38.9% on pitches outside of the strikezone which would put him at the 9th highest rate. That is not a horrific rate, but the problem is that rate of contact with those pitches is a measley 35.7%. Compare that to the lowest percentage of qualified major leaguers which is Richie Weeks at 40.6%. So JacKKKKKKKKson, see what did I say about those nicknames, is expanding the zone more than all but 8 of qualified big leaguers and he is the worst at making contact with those pitches.
In the zone, does not paint a much better picture for Jackson either. He has swung at 56% of pitches in the strikezone. This would be better than 20 major league players right now, but Jackson has made contact with 78.6% of pitches he has swung at in the strikezone. That rate places him between Carlos Pena and Josh Hamilton, which would be fourth worst amongst qualified major leaguers. So what we have seen so far is that Sveum and the scouts are both right. Jackson needs to swing at strikes but he is going to struggle making consistent contact with those pitches.
These 13 plate appearances having been depressing with his staggering 61.5% K rate, but 13 plate appearnces is not enough to label any player a bust. Looking at the actual pitches Jackson has only swung at a few truly awful pitches, and has had some bad luck with some borderline calls going against him. There is still hope that he could be a solid major league player given his defense, speed and power, but the strikeouts are going to have to come down. And maybe it is as simple as swinging at strikes as Sveum says.