I spent a good hour last night trying to find some kind of pattern in Edwin Jackson’s poor results the last two years, from pitch usage to velocity to location to release point. (What did you do with your Friday night?!)
After all that, nothing really jumped out that wasn’t already obvious. I simply don’t have much to say about what I did or didn’t find. So why am I writing this?
Well, I’d kind of hoped I could find a reason or two to suggest that moving Jackson to the bullpen could have a great deal of success, and I’d still like to have that discussion. It just might not be a very robust discussion.
As an example, I looked at why Wade Davis was so mediocre as a starter, and so crazy good as a reliever. Davis’s success is pretty easy to see coming: his fastball jumps three or four MPH when he’s in the pen, and he doesn’t have to rely on so many secondary pitches. That’s a prime formula for a successful conversion, it seems (big fastball that becomes enormous in short bursts; at least one dominant secondary offering that is more effective in short bursts because hitters aren’t seeing it five or six times in a game). I tried to see an overlay with Jackson, but I didn’t quite get there. Yes, Jackson’s always had good fastball velocity, but it hasn’t jumped in his few relief appearances, and it actually seems to climb as the game goes on. Yes, Jackson has a great slider, but it’s effectiveness has waned over the years. In short, I didn’t find anything in the stats or data to which I could point to support the idea that Jackson would likely fall into that category. He’s got a big fastball and, historically, a good slider. That could be an effective mix. But that’s all I got.
I thought I would find more. This doesn’t dissuade me from the possibility that Jackson could be a quality reliever, or that being in the bullpen might be the best fit for Jackson and the Cubs, if he’s to stay on, and contribute to, this particular team in 2015.*
*(To be honest, I left the digging feeling like, if they can’t trade him, the Cubs might be best off giving Jackson a chance to win that 5th starter job, because there’s still talent there, and he’s got the right building blocks to be a successful starter. Maybe there’s some little tweak that helps him command his pitches a little better (and maybe a different receiver will help). I know, I know, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice …. )
Wherever Jackson ends up – unless it’s another team – he’ll have a fight on his hands to win a spot on the Cubs out of Spring Training, big contract or not. Consider that the rotation will definitely feature Lester/Arrieta/Hammel at the front, and very likely Hendricks at four. That leaves just one spot to be dolled out among Jackson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Travis Wood, Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner, Dallas Beeler, Eric Jokisch, Dan Straily, and then some. Moreover, if the Cubs go with just seven in the bullpen, and even if they carry only one lefty reliever, the six righty spots will go to Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm, Jason Motte, plus one more. Jackson would again be competing with all those other possible starters, plus a handful of other guys in the bullpen mix.
Injuries will thin things out a little, as will surprise ineffectiveness in Spring Training. But it’s a tough fit either way finding a spot for Jackson, even if the Cubs believe he can be successful in the bullpen.
All that said, the Cubs might as well hang on to Jackson until the very last moment they have to make a decision. The trade market is unlikely to offer much of anything – not even much salary relief – and Jackson theoretically could still be a contributor, depending on how everything shakes out in the Spring.