Going into the 2009 season, one player on top of everyone’s “Must Watch” list was Diamondbacks 1B/LF Conor Jackson. Jackson, a former first round pick out of UC-Berkeley (smart guy), had put up a 3.0 WAR season in 2008, hitting .300/.376/.446 while playing plus defense in left field and okay defense at first base. However, he was turning twenty seven years old going into the ’09 season, and was primed to at least repeat his numbers from the previous year.
But then something sad happened. After getting off to an already rough start to the 2009 campaign, Jackson caught a bad case of Valley Fever, which the Mayo Clinic says, “…is highly variable. It can take from six months to a year to fully recover, and fatigue and joint aches can last even longer. The severity of the disease depends on several factors, including your overall health and the number of fungus spores you inhale.” The Valley Fever eventually turned into pneumonia, and Jackson just couldn’t take it anymore:
Jackson said he had a cough, was sore and achy and had been feeling constantly tired.
“By the third inning, it felt like I had played 20 innings with an 80-pound backpack on,” he said. “It was brutal.”
…He said the first signs of sickness came during the team’s first road trip of the season to San Francisco in mid-April. He said the pneumonia hit him during the most-recent homestand, at which point the club placed him on the disabled list.
…”I haven’t lifted a weight, I haven’t run, in three weeks pretty much,” he said. “We haven’t even talked about timetable. One doctor told me, ‘You’re going to be fatigued for the rest of the year.’ The infectious-disease guy said everybody reacts differently, so I don’t know what to expect.”
Jackson would end his season on May 11th, hitting just .182/.264/.253 in 110 plate appearances, good for -1.0 WAR for the season despite playing just thirty games. The Valley Fever did not go away immediately, and it took months for Jackson to finally get over it. The results were damaging; weight loss, muscle atrophy, and rust all set in, and even though Jackson was able to come back for the start of the 2010 season, the results have not been pretty. He’s hitting .242/.336/.333 with just one homer in 148 plate appearances, good for a wRC+ of just 82. Jackson also missed time on the DL in late April this year after straining his right hamstring.
Most shockingly for Jackson has been his balls in play. He’s hitting line drives at a staggering rate of 27.6% (!), but has a BABIP of just .270 for the season. Those numbers lead me to believe Jackson’s line drives have been more of the Juan Pierre variety than that of Albert Pujols, as the power numbers still remain staggeringly low.
Jackson still has the possibility of reviving his career, but his natural talent has not been able to supersede his temporary physical problems. Until Jackson’s power numbers come back, his value at first base and left field is extremely limited, and the Diamondbacks have to wonder how much rope they’ll give him before they’re forced to go in a different direction.
Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat