Spring training has begun, which means that, by god, baseball season is almost here. As Chicago baseball fans, the truth is we really don’t have a whole lot to look forward to this year, as both the Cubs and White Sox should struggle to even finish .500. Still, it will be baseball, and we will be watching it. So instead of writing general team previews for the upcoming season, I’ll be writing a series of posts in which I make FEARLESS PREDICTIONS about what will happen during the upcoming season. Today we look at Cubs starting pitcher Edwin Jackson.
Edwin Jackson is one of the most frustrating pitchers I’ve ever had to root for. He’s a tease of epic proportions. His stuff is fantastic, but it’s how he uses it that will kill you.
Jackson made only 30 starts as a White Sox, and when you look at his career numbers, aside from his season in Detroit, his stint with the White Sox may have been his best stop of the many he’s made. Despite all that, he drove me insane.
There is one start I remember better than any other simply because I was at The Cell watching it. It was May 16, 2011 against the Rangers, and it was a cold night. The starting temperature for the game is listed at 43 degrees, but there were also 19mph winds that made it feel more like 25.
And there was Edwin Jackson, who already takes his time between pitches, throwing a whole lot of pitches. His final line was 5.1 IP, 11 hits, four runs, six strikeouts and three walks, but it wasn’t as poor as that looks. Texas added two of those runs in the sixth, driving Jackson from the game.
Well, actually, it wasn’t the Texas runs that knocked Jackson out that night.
On that cold ass night Jackson was able to record 16 outs. He needed 111 pitches to get there. And that was what always drove me nuts about EJ, that night in particular as I sat freezing in the stands. He has this tendency to get ahead of a hitter and then just nibble and try to get the batter to get himself out. Which is understandable, but in Jackson’s case, with the stuff he has, he could just challenge him. He seldom does.
His no-hitter in 2010 with the Diamondbacks was a perfect example of who Edwin Jackson is. Even on a night when he didn’t allow a hit he still walked eight batters and needed 149 pitches to get through it.
That’s Edwin Jackson. The mediocre innings-eater with stuff just good enough to break your heart.
And that’s essentially who Edwin Jackson was for the Cubs last season, though the results were far below average.
Jackson finished 8-18 (though I hope we all know how misleading a pitcher’s win-loss record truly is) with a 4.98 ERA and an ERA+ of 79. But here’s the thing. His peripherals were basically in line with everything else he’d done throughout his career.
He walked 3.0 batters per nine innings. His career mark is 3.5.
He struck out 6.9 batters per nine, which matches his career numbers.
He had a K/BB ratio of 2.29, which was better than his career ratio of 1.99.
I could go down an entire list of these stats, but the fact is, just about all of them will be the same. Some with a slight increase, others with a slight decrease. So what the hell happened?
Well, I don’t know, really. I do know that part of it could have been the Cubs defense behind him. In 2013 Jackson posted an FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.79, which was slightly below league average, but it was the second-best FIP he’d posted in his career. Just behind the 3.73 he put up in 2011 with the Sox and Cardinals.
The other major problem seems to have been the fact that once runners got on base, whether it was a walk or a hit, Jackson had a hard time keeping them there. EJ’s strand rate was only 63.3%, well below his 70.5% career rate and the 71.2% he had in his season with the Nats and the 73.9% he had in 2011.
So timing could have been an issue as well.
As for what this all means in 2014, putting it all together I can’t help but feel like Jackson’s going to improve this season, though not enough to make the Cubs signing him make sense. The Cubs are going to see an average season from Jackson where he finishes somewhere around 11-11 with a 4.50 ERA. He’s going to be totally average.
And he’s going to frustrate you a lot along the way, because at some point he’s going to put together three starts where you start wondering “HAS HE FIGURED IT OUT? HAS HE PUT IT ALL TOGETHER!?”
But he won’t. He never does. He’ll just go out there every five days, sometimes look great, sometimes look horrible, and most times just filling some innings 100 pitches at a time.
He’s just Edwin Jackson and he’s always going to be Edwin Jackson. The only thing you need to worry about is making sure you never go to a game he’s starting before June when it finally begins to warm up.
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