On Sunday, Edwin Jackson had his best start in a great long while: 6 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 6 K.
Overwhelming? No. Dominant? No. But solidly good. Moreover, it was the first time in a month that he’d gone six innings. That, alone, was cause for a relieved sigh.
Am I about to start singing the praises of Jackson after a couple months of chewing on humble pie when, at every turn, he laid waste to any prior argument I – or anyone else – had made about various performance indicators pointing to a turnaround? You just wait! It’ll come around! And we did wait. And kept waiting. And Jackson kept struggling with his command, kept falling behind, kept giving up hard hit balls, (kept getting a little unlucky,) and kept leaving games early.
So, no, I’m not going to be making any arguments today. Jackson’s line drive rate remains an egregiously high 25.3%, and his walk rate is far too high for his style, at 9.6%. Much of Jackson’s poor results are due to poor performance.
I am curious, however, as we proceed through the August waiver trade season, how outside observers view Jackson. Are we damaged by having seen him too closely (and by being fans, rather than scouts/executives/dispassionate analysts)?
- If you were taking an erased-board look at Jackson today, here are some things you’d see:
- A 20.5% K rate, well above the league average for starters this year (19.3%).
- Velocity that’s basically in line with where he’s been the last few years.
- An xFIP that is down to 3.92. That’s better than Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle, Alfredo Simon, Matt Garza, R.A. Dickey, Jarred Cosart, and Kyle Lohse, among many others. Hell, it’s just 0.1 higher than the MLB average for starters.
- Although it’s hard to beg off the elevated .349 BABIP because of the huge line drive rate, you could point to the super low 64.8% left-on-base rate, and the 11.9% HR/FB rate as signs of slightly bad luck, which could positively regress over the final months.
Is any of that going to convince another MLB team to trade for Jackson and his $11 million per year deal through 2016? Nah. Not at that price, anyway. And I tend to think all teams have a much more robust understanding of player performance than we can put together in a stat-based drill-down. To wit, if I’m a scout who’s been following Jackson closely this year, I’d have a very hard time recommending to my bosses that we take a chance on him, even as a back-end guy.
To do so, you’d have to be betting on positive regression, together with the upside Jackson showed a few years ago, and an understanding that he really does have great stuff. Are those things legit? Sure. But is it enough to commit substantial future dollars for a roll of the dice in this year’s playoff race?
I doubt it. But we’ll see soon enough, as the Cubs have almost certainly already placed Jackson on revocable August trade waivers at this point. He will clear, and then the Cubs will be able to trade him any time this month to any team.
With a significant increase in reasonable back-end options for the Cubs next year – Hendricks/Wada/Straily/Doubront/Jokisch/Beeler – and an expectation that the Cubs will add at least two quality starting pitchers in the offseason, it has become very hard to see how Jackson will fit into the equation next year, even if the Cubs are inclined (as my imagined, hopeful other MLB team is) to bet on Jackson’s upside/regression in 2015 and 2016.
For his part, Jackson is just trying to stay focused on performing well. He tells CSN, “I don’t know how many times I can say it. I say it with a smile. I say without a smile. I worry about what I can control now. Other than that, I have a job and my job is to be prepared for the next start. Anything other than that, it’s out of my hands, it’s out of my control. So why worry about it?”
He added that he hasn’t heard from the front office one way or the other (which doesn’t really mean a lot – it would be odd for them to make a special visit to tell Jackson that they might or might not trade him, but probably won’t). I suspect the Cubs will work hard to find a fit this month for Jackson, because clearing his spot – and a chunk of cash – will help clarify the Cubs’ offseason approach to the rotation (and, to some extent, the bullpen, too).
We’ll see if any team out there buys into the numbers behind the numbers behind the numbers, and remembers what Jackson can be when he’s on.