The Good, The Bad, and The Maybe of Edwin Jackson

The Nats signed Edwin Jackson yesterday to a one year deal worth around $10M, give or take (depending on incentives and the like). This of course throws our rotation projections into turmoil. It indicates that while Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez and now Jackson are probably the top 4 of the rotation, Lannan, Wang and Detwiler are all fighting for that final spot. Of course, with an innings limit on Strasburg and the inevitable even minor injuries that show up on pitchers throughout a season, everyone will get a chance to throw. But enough about the rotation, let’s talk about this new pitcher.

Who is This Guy 

Jackson is 28 years old and has been in the majors for parts of 9 seasons. In his last 4 seasons, he’s averaged 202 IP and 32 starts, so he’s been a horse. His ERA+ is a slightly better than average 106, meaning he’s been alright but nothing special in aggregate. He had a horrible start to 2010 with Arizona, got traded to the White Sox and was lights out. A decent start to 2011 in Chicago led to a trade to St Louis, where he was a league average pitcher who was called upon to start 4 games in the postseason. After beating the Phillies in the NLCS, he had a poor remainder of the postseason, but did end up as a World Champion.

As for his style, well, he’s what you call a “power arm.” He sits in the mid to high 90s for an entire game, often touching 96 and 97 late. But that hasn’t helped him be the top of the rotation guy you’d think might come of that – he’s only struck out 598 in 806 1/3 IP his last 4 seasons, and walked 287. That 2.08 K/BB ratio is ok, but it’s surprising that someone with that heat only has a 6.7 K/9. He also gives up just over a hit per inning, all of this leading to a 4.06 ERA.

It probably means that despite the blazing fastball, it doesn’t have alot of movement on it. Most hitters can deal with a fastball, even if it’s 97 mph, if they aren’t worried about the offspeed stuff and know where the fastball is going. Unless he can use an effective secondary pitch, he probably won’t be much better than he’s been.

The Promise of More

That being said, one of the reasons Jackson’s been on so many different teams (6) in such a short time is that he is a proven commodity (a positive ERA+ and an innings eater) who has a blazing fastball. Teams look at him and see more than he really is. The Nationals may be on the list of teams who think they can fix him just a bit and make him into a devastating power pitcher. And maybe they can do that, but they wouldn’t be the first to try. It’s not such a risk to pick him up on the off chance that they can, because even if they can’t, he still provides real value.

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