Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 2/27/13
Austin Jackson has a career .370 BABIP, which last year resulted in a .300 average. In his third major league season, Jackson saw his walk rate continue to rise (up to 10.3%) and his strikeout rate drop precipitously (down to 21.7%). A down 2011 aside (16.8% line drive rate, .249 average), Jackson has consistently shown he can make great contact, drive the ball hard, and use his legs to get on base.While I love the improvements in his walk and strikeout rates and bow down to his elite line drive rate, I’m not sure any player can carry a .370 BABIP from year to year. In any one year, sure, Jackson could have a BABIP bordering on .390-.400 (which would likely yield a .320+ average nowadays), but year in and year out it’s almost impossible for any player to have a BABIP that high.Over the last three years (since Jackson broke into the majors) there have been 230 players who have registered at least 1,000 plate appearances. Of those 230 players, his .370 BABIP is the highest in the league. Joey Votto comes in second at .367, Wilson Betemit (seriously?) is third at .362, and just six other players check in at .350 or better.I’m not saying Jackson isn’t the best BABIP guy in the league — the numbers seem to suggest that he is — but banking on .370 every single year is a bit too risky for my blood. We’ve tempered expectations a tad, lowering our projection all the way to (gasp!) .358. With his new-found base on balls ability, one of the better batting averages in the bigs, and the elite duo of sluggers driving him in, Jackson will continue to be a fantasy force for years to come.At a GlanceStrengths: R, SB, BA, OBPNeutral: HR, net SB, SLG, OPSWeaknesses: RBIPlayer ComparisonsBest-case scenario: Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)Likely scenario: Shin-Soo Choo (CIN),  Alejandro De Aza (CHW), Starlin Castro (CHC)Worst-case scenario: Martin Prado (ARI)Austin Jackson 2013 Fantasy ProjectionI’m going to pencil Jackson in for 100 runs and a .280 average off the bat. Given his skill set and the strength of Detroit’s lineup, I think those are pretty safe benchmarks to expect. While we also project a little regression in power, dropping from 16 homers to 13 isn’t a huge deal. Yes, he hit those 16 homers in 137 games and we’re projecting he hits three fewer in 12 more games, but I’d like to see him do it one more time before I jump on the 18-20 homer bandwagon. For what it’s worth, though, Jackson didn’t have any single stretch of power last year. He hit either two or three homers in every month, and that lends itself to the power surge being legitimate.Last season Jackson disappointed with just 12 stolen bases, but the Tigers have already admitted that they want to see Jackson run more this season. With his speed that could push his steals total north of 20 once again, but we’ll settle at 20 for now. As fast as he is, he’s not proven himself to be particularly great at stealing bases with efficiency. In 2012 he was just 12 of 21 (57.1%).The bottom line is this: Those who are bullish on Jackson should feel free to target him in the fourth round. There’s the chance he could put up a borderline elite fantasy line resembling 110 R, 18 HR, 65 RBI, 25 SB, .300 BA, and that would be pretty darn special. I’d rather temper expectations a tad, but even our “conservative” projection has Jackson ranked as the 55th-best player in 2013.
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