Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride: Conor Jackson

by Eno Sarris //

It didn’t quite start with a
crash in the library. But Conor Jackson has so far had a career that
resembles the now-defunct Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

It all started
so well when he got his first regular playing time in 2006, racking up a .291/.368/.441 line that suggested further upside.
He’d been ranked as high as #17 on Baseball America’s top 100 list and had
shown a .200 ISO in the minor leagues (isolated power, or slugging
percentage minus batting average), so it seemed possible that Jackson
was going to develop into an above-average first baseman despite his
underpowered debut (.151 ISO). At the very least, his nice walk rate (9.7%) could provide good value to his team.

The ride meandered a bit when he followed that up with a .284/.368/.467 season that made fans
wonder if there wasn’t a lot of projectability there. Though he had hit 15 home runs in both seasons,
there was still some hope that he could improve that number in the
future, especially after a solid .183 ISO in his sophomore season.

The 2008 season took most of the shine off Jackson’s future, as his
batting line looked very familiar (.300/.376/.446) and his ISO took a
step back (.146). First base, of all positions, is not a great place to
stick an underpowered stick, as the average batting-title qualifying
first baseman put up a .287/.378/.515 batting line in 2009. But
Jackson still offered value with his batting average, and by playing in
the outfield he added a little quirk and a little spice for people in
deep, five-outfielder leagues.

But last season, things turned for the worse. Jackson caught valley fever, a fungal
affliction seen mostly in the southwest. To quote the Wikipedia entry
on the subject

The spores, known as arthroconidia,
are swept into the air by disruption of the soil, such as during
construction, farming, dancing at desert raves, or an earthquake.

I hope he caught it at a rave, so that some fun came from the situation. The rare disease has mild, flu-like
symptoms, but the fatigue associated with it basically cost Jackson the
year. He amassed just 110 plate appearances in the majors, and a dismal
.182/.264/.253 batting line. It might be safe to call 2009 a bedeviled section of the wild ride for Jackson.

Will there be a return to
normalcy for Jackson? Though claiming to be healthy, he has struggled
to a .245/.331/.343 line. The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider
graph shows just how bad such a line is, when stacked up against first
basemen. Jackson is available in 97% of Yahoo leagues and 89.7% of ESPN
leagues. With his mild power even when he was going well, he was easy
to jettison and easier to ignore.

maybe there are still
fine times coming. Jackson has picked it up in June (.289/.357/.421)
and there are other encouraging signs. He never stopped walking
throughout his troubles (11.4% this year) and his contact rate is right
on target
(87.3% this year, 87.6% career). Now he’s finally hitting the ball with
some authority (27.5% line drive rate).

He probably won’t ever have the power of the average starting first
baseman, he just doesn’t hit the ball in the air enough (34.4% this
year, 40.3% career). But if Jackson can continue to spray line drives
and show his trademark excellent eye at the plate, he can
help in deeper leagues – especially in leagues that count OBP and have five outfielders. Maybe Kevin
Smith was right – maybe everyone does want Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

For more on Conor Jackson and other waiver-wire options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

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