It's astonishing to see Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson produce this much, this early. Opposing pitchers are still trying to figure him out, and although he still leads the American League in strikeouts, he's a big reason why the Tigers are rallying from behind practically every night.
And I never thought I'd be saying this in May 2010, but … he's playing better than Curtis Granderson.
For months I was trying to convince every weeping soul around me to buy into the rationale for the Granderson trade. It went as follows: the team was gonna suck next year anyway, Grandy's contract would hurt the team in future seasons, this makes us much better in 2011, and for the love of Harwell, STOP CRYING. Of course, that argument was thrown off the top of the Renaissance Center once the team shelled over $22 million for a closer and an aging left fielder.
Suddenly the trade wasn't a rebuilding gambit. They were actually trying to compete in 2010. With a 23-year-old center fielder and leadoff hitter. Instead of Curtis freaking Granderson.
I was shocked. I was sad. Until they started playing baseball games.
Sure, a month does not a conclusion make, but let's compare the two statistic lines of our center fielding stalwarts so far (stats through Thursday, April 29):
Jackson: .330/.394/.468, 1 HR, 4 SB, 10 BB, 32 K
Granderson: .230/.313/.392, 2 HR, 4 SB, 9 BB, 16 K
Okay, so Grandy has hit sort of a cold spell. After a hot start, he has just two hits in his last 30 at bats, while Jackson has five two-hit games in that same span. What about defense?
Jackson: 2 assists, 1 errors, 3.1 UZR, 2.78 RF/9
Granderson: 2 assists, 0 errors, 1.4 UZR, 2.79 RF/9
The range factors are about the same, and even though ultimate zone rating is flawed when looking at it with such a small sample, they're both superb fielders. And defense doesn't slump.
A lot of other factors are mixed into the reason for the team's success (read: everybody who isn't a starting pitcher or Gerald Laird). But Jackson has surprisingly caught the baton handed off by Granderson in both the lineup and the field. Hell, he's caught everything else. Now he just needs to start a charity.