Can Jackson overcome strikeout woes?

903767.png

Can Jackson overcome strikeout woes?

Brett Jackson emerged in 2012 as a polarizing prospect.

The young, "toolsy" outfielder had worked his way up Baseball America's prospect ratings each of the past three seasons and had scouts and Cubs fans alike excited about the potential.

But then a crazy thing happened -- his strikeouts went from bad to worse. And then fell to just downright awful when he was called up to the majors.

Jackson struck out 126 times in 491 at-bats in 2010, then whiffed 138 times in 431 ABs in '11. He continued his collapse downhill with a whopping 158 strikeouts in just 407 ABs in Triple-A last season before tallying 59 in 120 ABs in the bigs.

Jackson, 24, actually reached a historic level with his strikeout rate. He struck out in 49.17 percent of his at-bats, which was the second-highest rate ever by a position player, with only Dave Duncan (yes, the legendary Cardinals pitching coach) coming in higher, with a 49.5 percent rate in 1967.

Baseball America has a really good feature on how players of Jackson's ilk have fared.

There are players with incredibly high strikeout rates who have had success at the big-league level, including current Cubs assistant hitting coach Rob Deer and former Cubs slugger Dave Kingman.

Then there are players who failed to meet expectations, including Brewers prospect Mat Gamel and Pirates slugger Brad Eldred.

The jury is still out on three guys, like Nationals outfielder Justin Maxwell, Mariners outfielder Trayvon Robinson and White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers.

So which category will Jackson fall under? The jury is still out on him -- just like Flowers and the others -- but he does bring a lot of other things to the table.

Jackson works the count (averaged 4.24 pitches per plate appearance in the MLB), plays solid defense in center (remember him crashing into the wall in Pittsburgh?) and displays a rare combination of power and speed (55 homers, 91 steals in minor-league career).

But the strikeouts can hold him back, especially if he continues to whiff in almost half his at-bats.

Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

cubs_101.jpg

Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs aim to stay hot vs. Pirates Wednesday on CSN

Preview: Blackhawks open preseason against Penguins Wednesday on CSN+

Fire continue road trip Wednesday at improved Seattle on CSN

Cubs keep cruising vs. Pirates as future playoff foes battle injuries

Chris Sale ties career-high 17 wins as White Sox power past Rays

Three starting points for the Bears to salvage their 2016 season

Fred Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler rave about Rajon Rondo's voice, basketball IQ

Stan Bowman likes Blackhawks prospects' potential to fill holes

Why Kris Bryant is such a money player for this Cubs team

If roster stays the same, Adam Eaton believes White Sox can compete in 2017

John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have so much going for them, all this blue-chip talent, a clubhouse mix of young players and grizzled veterans, arguably the best manager in the game, an impactful coaching staff and a front office that blends scouting and analytics as well as anyone.

So, no, John Lackey is not at all surprised by the way this clicked into place, 101 wins and counting for the machine built with October in mind.

“Not really,” Lackey said after Tuesday night’s 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I had some pretty good offers from other people, and I chose this one for a reason. It’s all here.”

But to win the World Series — and get the jewelry Lackey talks about — you still need some luck, good health and the guts to perform in those Big Boy Games. That reality of randomness and matchups made a pregame announcement some 250 miles away from PNC Park so telling.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his MVP-caliber season. The National League East champions will lose a .307 hitter with 22-homer power from the middle of their lineup and a veteran presence for a playoff rotation that will likely be without injured ace Stephen Strasburg (right elbow) in the first round.

“That’s a tough one when you lose your catcher, a guy who’s that significant for the pitching staff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Think about the pitching staff — it’s so different when you know the guy back there is your guy and he knows what’s going on. The communication’s different. The trust factor, all that stuff is different.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Within that big-picture context, the Cubs survived as Lackey limited the checked-out Pirates (77-80) to one run across five innings in his fifth start since recovering from a strained right shoulder and coming off the disabled list. Maddon then used six different relievers — staying away from Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman — during a three-hour, 49-minute game that felt more like the Cactus League.

After defecting from the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals team the Cubs bounced out of last year’s playoffs, Lackey finished the regular season at 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 188 1/3 innings.

“I’m going to get to 200,” Lackey said.

Beyond wins and losses, Lackey called this season his career best in terms of “those numbers that they’ve made up in the last few years” like WHIP (1.04) and opponents’ OPS (.646) and whatever. And, no, he doesn’t know his WAR, either: “Not even close.”

Yes, the Cubs got the old-school attitude they wanted when they signed Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal before the winter meetings. For all the talk about the pitching deficit and the New York Mets after their young guns swept the Cubs out of last year’s NL Championship Series, the Cubs are getting their money’s worth with a guy who will turn 38 in October.

The amazing Mets have lost three of those frontline starters — Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (nerve damage in his right elbow) and Steven Matz (bone spur in his left elbow) — and are still holding onto the first wild-card spot, which says something about this playoff field.

This doesn’t guarantee anything in October, but the Cubs are just about as close to full strength as they could reasonably hope now. Instead of the silence that would have come with losing an irreplaceable player like Ramos, the sound system in the postgame clubhouse blasted Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G. after their 101st win.

“Yeah, we lost Dexter (Fowler) for a bit,” Maddon said. “We lost (Kyle) Schwarber all year. Otherwise, when a couple pitchers got banged up, whether you’re talking about Rondon or Strop, I don’t think that our injuries have been as magnified because we’ve covered them pretty well.

“We still had our moments, like everybody else has. But when you get to right now, we’re getting well, and hopefully that trend continues. But to lose somebody of that magnitude for them, that’s got to be difficult.”