Analyzing Edwin Jackson's early season struggles

The Cubs biggest signing this offseason was tonight's starter, RHP Edwin Jackson, who signed for a 4 year, $52M contract that included an $8M signing bonus.  One way to look at this is the Cubs just gave a pitcher $19M this season who so far has gone 1-7 with a 6.11 ERA.

Couldn't the Cubs have found someone to do that from AAA or the waiver wire?

Tom and I were talking today and we agreed it's far too early to give up on Edwin Jackson.   We still think it's a good deal, just a slow start for a free agent who is adjusting to a new team and new environment.   And maybe he's pressing a little bit to live up to his big contract.

So I decided to look into Jackson and the stats beyond those hideous numbers he's put up this season and to see what, if anything, has changed.

Is Jackson's stuff not as good?

The first thing I wanted to check was his velocity on all his pitches.  Jackson has been a workhorse his whole career, so I wondered if maybe he's starting to wear down.

The answer appears to be no.

Jackson's velo is down slightly, but that's to be expected in the colder months, when velocity tends to be a tick or two slower.  Jackson's 4-seam FB velo is down less than 1 mph from last season.  The rest of his pitches aren't much different.  The slider and change-up are roughly the same and his two-seamer is down about 1.4 mph since last season.  I'm not worried about that.  I'll chalk part of that up to the cold and part to just normal statistical variance.

Moreover, Jackson's strikeouts are up...way up.  They are up to 8.83 per 9 IP, which is is his career high, nearly a full strikeout ahead of last year and more than 2 strikeouts better than his 2011 season.

Jackson isn't losing steam and hasn't lost the ability to miss bats.

So let's move on.

The Approach

If it's not velo, perhaps it's his approach and this time I noticed a couple of changes from last year.  Jackson is throwing more cutters -- 9.6% of the time, up from 5.2% last year.  He's also thrown far less change-ups.  Only 1.6% of his pitches have been change-ups compared to 8% last year.

He's also thrown more sliders (from 28.2% to 31.7%) and less curveballs (4.8% to 3.1%).

There is some variance here, so I don't want to make too much of it.  Pitch F/X numbers are a little different and actually have him throwing more curveballs -- but they do have him throwing far less change-ups.   The pattern here is that while Jackson is throwing roughly the same number of fastballs, he is relying more on his hard secondary stuff -- more cutters and sliders combined with less change-ups and perhaps less of his lower velocity curveballs as well.

Control Factors

We can also take a look at his control and we do see right away that the walks are up to 3.74 per 9 innings -- his highest since 2008.  One factor is it seems hitters are less likely to swing at Jackson's pitches outside the strike zone this year, taking 4-5% less swings out of the zone than they did last season. But we'll talk about other possible factors a bit later in the piece.

Luck Factors

Sometimes it's just old-fashioned bad luck and while I see some downward (but correctable) trends with Jackson,  he's also been a little unlucky.   The BABIP is at .341 compared to .278 last season and .313 in his career.  The .341 mark is his highest since 2007.  It seems that more batted balls are falling for hits than usual and that should turn around.

We should also note, though, that Jackson has given up more line drives, more than 5% over last year and 2.5% over his career mark.  He's also given up more groundballs, some of which seem to have eyes this year.  He's down in flyballs but his HR ratio per flyball has stayed the same, so his HR rate has fallen some.  It also means he's given up less easily played flyballs in exchange for more line drives and groundballs, which have a better chance of falling or finding holes.

In addition, the LOB% is way, way down.  Last year Jackson stranded a very normal 71% of baserunners, which is the same as his career number.  This year that number is down to 56%.  That has to improve over time.  Jackson didn't suddenly forget how to pitch with men on base -- he's mostly been more unlucky and part of that luck has been BABIP.

Lastly, to use a more all-encompassing stat, Jackson's FIP  (3.69) and xFIP (3.67) are pretty much in line with what they have been the past 3 seasons.  That number alone bodes well for a turnaround.


As you might expect, Jackson's poor start is partly on him and partly on bad luck.  The largest part that's on him is the control issue.  He is simply putting more men on base.  He's also relying more on hard stuff, perhaps giving hitters more of a chance to time his velocity -- leading to more line drives.

So what you have is a pitcher putting more men on base combined with having less luck with BABIP and strand rate.  That's not a good combination.

You wonder if he's becoming more reliant on the strikeout -- maybe trying too hard to avoid contact,  which would help explain the higher walk rate as well.  And while I don't have the numbers on it, it wouldn't surprise me if he's trying to power his way out of jams, which only seems to exacerbate the situation.  It's what some fans might call pressing and his pitch selection with men on base is  something I want to watch carefully tonight.

The bottom line is that I don't think Jackson needs to change a whole lot.  He just needs to relax, throw more strikes, mix in a few more changes and stop trying to overpower everyone -- especially when he gets  into trouble.  He needs to trust that good team defense and that a little less bad luck will help turn things around for him this season.

Hopefully it starts tonight.



Leave a comment
  • He has good stuff. I think the key for him, as for most pitchers, is not being afraid to attack hitters with the fastball early in the counts.

    Seems to often, you see a guy try to spin a changeup, or a curve/slider, on the first pitch, then have one hell of a time locating the fastball on the follow up pitches, leading to a walk.

    Isn't the term called "trusting your fastball"? :)

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Himm. That's something I'll have to keep an eye on tonight too.

  • Like usual your analysis is right on the money. I was comparing this season to his career #s and the higher K & BB rates are obvious. He's been fairly consistent over the past couple years and that ERA will come down over time. With Woods good luck EJax' performance is sort of a wash and both guys are doing what your #3 and #4 pitchers should do in the long run.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Thanks. I was thinking about the contrast with Wood as I wrote this. It does seem like the two balance out and we shouldnt' be surprised to see them moving in opposite directions as the year goes on to even things out.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think that sums it up quite well John. Much like we expected Feldman to be okay after he started out lousy, or Villanueva to come back to earth after he started so hot.... Wood will come back to earth a bit and E-Jax will be fine. He's not expected to be anything more than a #3 SP and innings eater and I'm sure he'll turn out to be exactly that.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks Hoosier. It helps to step back sometimes and take a second look -- and I just couldnt find anything in Jackson's numbers that suggest he's regressed at all. I think we'll see a strong rebound soon.

  • Thanks for writing this, John. Very helpful, as usual. I had actually been puzzling over his numbers recently and was thinking of writing you and asking for just such an analysis. I hope Jackson reads it himself.

  • In reply to BudMan:

    Thanks Budman! I think EJax will be okay. Hopefully it starts tonight.

  • fb_avatar

    Excellent analysis, thank you. Too often we look at the results, but you often need to peel the onion back a layer or two, particularly with less than a full season of data.

    E-Jax will be fine; he's always been a "1 big inning" guy, which limits him to #3 or 4 starter material. But he's a workhorse, and you need those too.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Thanks Zonk. Agreed that Jackson, despite first rate stuff, will likely always be more the mid rotation work horse type -- but hey, those are nice to have. I think we'll be happy with him once he starts pitching the way his numbers and track record say he should.

  • Very thorough and interesting analysis, John. A fun read.

    Is there any chance that he's changed his arm slot slightly from years past so the hitters pick up the ball quicker/easier? I'm imagining that isn't the reason, but just a passing thought...

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Thanks. Not that I've noticed but plan on watching Jackson closely tonight.

  • fb_avatar

    John, How good of a rotation could Shark, Garza, Appel/Gray and Jackson be? Potentially?

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    Don't forget Wood.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Pura Vida:

    Not forgetting Wood. I chose to omit him. I just don't think he is good enough to put him into this class yet.

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    Wood ranks in the top of pitching in the N.L.........still not good enough?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to CubsTalk:

    Sample Size?

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    Then how do Gray/Appel figure in your list? Until they perform at the ML level, it's all projection and supposition... more so than Wood who has a track record. It's (obviously) your list and you can put who you want on it, but I just think that *if* we see this level out of Wood (or even close), he'd be a hell of a 5th starter. Just like *if* Gray/Appel pan out as advertised we'll have a true staff ace (hopefully!).

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    I think it's a playoff-worthy rotation. I think the addition of Appel or Gray solidifies it -- especially if they do keep Garza. Even if they don't Samardzija Appel/Gray, Jackson, Wood, and one prospect, whether it be Pierce Johnson or someone else won't be too bad either.

  • For Theo, it is the "John Lackey" signing all over again......

    Jackson is a good pitcher, once his team scores 8 runs for him in the first inning.......

    at the end, if Jackson still is struggling, Theo will offer to pay 70% of Jackson's salary in a trade......

    As for who the Cubs might draft, I believe Theo will have a sign contract from the player he wants before the team selects......Boras might have ticked off Theo and company from past bad contracts on players Boras represent.....Appel should love the humid nights in Miami and being in last place for the next six years..........Appel should have signed with the Pirates last season.

  • Looks like the Cubs are putting erections up of their proposed signs and video board.

  • Ray, it's been a while since the Cubs did that to a lot of people.
    Oops, I misread what you meant......;>}

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I could have written that better. No offense intended.

  • No offense taken.....It's good when the Cubs can, um, evoke a visceral response from the fans !

  • Yeah, I just got the Wrigleyville Rooftops Assoc. response too. Here it is for those interested...

    "We appreciate the Cubs' willingness to demonstrate the impact of their sign plan. We were shown several options today, which we will verify with the permit applications they have submitted to the City of Chicago. We know one thing for sure: Signs on the Rooftops have no obstruction of our patrons' views and remain the best solution to provide sign revenue to the team."

  • I like how the Rooftops Assoc. thinks it knows what the "best solution" for sign revenue for the Cubs is.

  • Best solution for them, maybe. I'm sure the Cubs don't want someone outside the organization controlling their signage and advertising revenue.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


  • For whatever reason I haven't been real concerned with Jackson's performance this year so far, it's early yet. Even so, I am appreciative of more great analysis in the form of this article.
    Here's to hoping Jackson starts to turn it around tonight against his old team. I would say it gives him incentive but he's had a lot of former teams. Lol.

  • In reply to Bill:

    Thanks Bill. I think tonight's a great place to start.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Bill:

    E_Jax has had a very unusual career in general if you think about it

    He was a red-hot prospect, #4 BA, who made the majors at age 19 and posted a 2.45 ERA in three starts

    After that, he really couldn't get off the ground with the Dodgers, who traded him to Tampa

    With Tampa, he was OK, but faded off the map of being the next big thing, instead was considered just a thing

    He re-established himself as effective, then got traded 4 more times, though each time in his defense he brought value back to the trading team

    For a guy to have pitched with 8 teams by age 29, without being released, is very unusual

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Definitely Zonk. I think we were all hoping once he got some security/multi-year deal he would be more consistent. Certainly an unusual career path.

  • Az Phil reporting that Reggie Golden promoted to KC.

  • As long as Jackson is pitching tonight, maybe he should ask Sox pitching coach Don Copper for a few pointers since they worked well together before.

  • Bad new ........

    RT @PWSullivan Arodys Vizcaino has calcium buildup. Debridement by Dr Andrews. Won't pitch for Cubs this season. May begin rehab in 6 weeks. about 5 mins ago

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to SouthsideB:

    Too bad.......that may end his conversion to being a starter. Not because it can't still happen, but because his service clock has started, and we have club control through 2017 only. If we spend 2014 converting him, that means only 3 years before he hits FA.

    Cubs may decide just to have a good bullpen arm and be done with it

    He'll probably disappear from any top-100 lists as well now

  • In reply to Zonk:

    He'll almost certainly start in relief, I think. Maybe he works his way up later in his career but right now that looks like the best path for him to get there.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Zonk:

    If he comes back and is effective as the closer, I don't see any reason we can't extend him at a reasonable rate. If the elbow is holding up in 2 or 3 seasons, the Ryan Dempster conversion back to the rotation is very do-able.

  • Great analysis John. I liked the Jackson signing. Also agree with you that the sample size is small, so some patience is needed here. Imagine the front office is pretty disappointed with the early returns.

  • Bad news on Vizcaino but that's what happens with damaged goods... Baker probably won't work out for us either. Those 10-5 rights of Dempster's are still having an effect on our return I guess.

  • Seems like Sveum might be worried about the velo drop with his "pitch with conviction" quote the other day. That extra 5 mil for Anibal Sanchez is looking like chump change right about now, but I don't think he'll stay this bad. The real story for me this year with him is just how bad he's been against lefties. He's always had a rougher time against them, but never THIS bad. Righties he's walking 2.56/9ip, but lefties it's 5.48. And at Wrigley they're batting .415/.500/.679 against him as opposed to .258/.310/.391 for righties there. You might be onto something, John, with him relying too much on the strikeout. Those godawful numbers against lefties at home are also accompanied by a 15.19 K/9.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I thought Sveum was referring to attacking the strike zone more -- which is what he did early on in the game yesterday. The velo is fine. When you factor in the cold, its the same as last year.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Sounds like he was talking about velocity out of the gate.

    "After Thursday’s loss to the Pirates, Sveum said he needed to see Jackson pitch with more 'conviction.'

    Asked Friday what he meant by that, Sveum said: 'When you come out, we need to be full velocity … instead of gradually getting into that to where the game gets away from you.' "

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    That still doesn't have to do with an actual/literal loss of velocity, which is what the article is saying. Sveum is speaking about something different. He's talking about a willingness to come out from pitch one attacking hitters with everything he's got, there's no concern as to a loss of velocity. It's still there, it's a matter of how/when he's using it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree that's what he's saying. But when a manager says something like that, I worry there's something written between the lines. I was just linking it to show you he was talking velocity.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Whatever is was it appeared to be working last night until the rins came.... Let's hope he continues that efficiency.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I understand. Just wanted to clarify that I was talking about a physical loss of velocity -- which is much more concerning than an unwillingness to use it early in the game. The latter is easily fixed.

Leave a comment