Edwin Jackson is a popular subject this year after his disappointing debut in a Cubs uniform last year. The stuff is there, particular with his fastball/slider combo, but Jackson hasn't been able to put together a consistent career to this point.
Today, we have a guest post for you from one of our readers and he gives his take on why Jackson should bounce back...
The case for an Edwin Jackson rebound in 2014
by Joe Piscopo
Edwin Jackson's 2013 season was a disaster and the Cubs made a mistake in signing him. This is the prevailing thought process by every baseball talking head and article written about Jackson's 2013 season, his first with the Cubs. Even Theo Epstein was almost apologetic when asked about the Jackson signing at the 2014 Cubs Convention.
I believe that 2013 was not nearly as horrible as some have made it out to be for Jackson. I also believe he will rebound in a way where his 2014 will fall more in line with his career averages.
Personally, I was happy when the Cubs inked Jackson to a 4-year contract for $52M. He had been pitching well for a few years and I felt $11M per year was a fair price for a decent #3 starter, or at worst, a top-tier #4. If people were expecting him to be an ace, then they were mistaken. Jackson has never been an ace, despite having had ace-type stuff, and the Cubs are not paying him ace money. $11M a year is not an enormous amount of money in today's world of professional baseball.
As 2013 wore on, Jackson wasn't winning many games for the Cubs and the grumbling and complaining about him started. Of course, as any informed baseball fan knows, you cannot judge a pitcher based on wins. As the end of the season neared, I wanted to investigate if his season was really as bad as everyone was making it out to be. So I delved into his stats to see what I could uncover to find out if Jackson truly was getting worse or if something else was happening.
For most of the people that have chided Jackson in 2013, their reasoning is because he won only 8 games, lost 18 and posted an ERA of almost 5.
For the 3-year span of 2009-2011, Jackson was a 3.5 - 3.6 fWAR pitcher. I had to compare his 2013 stats to that 3-year peak he had to find out what was causing his supposed regression.
Compared to that 3-year peak, in 2013, his strikeouts were down slightly, his walk rate was the same, the amount of HR's per 9 innings he allowed were down and his groundball rate was increased 7.2%. No alarming differences there. So I needed to dig deeper.
Being that he was inducing more groundballs than at any point in his career, could the defense behind him have something to do with the amount of runs he was giving up? That very well could be one reason.
One glaring difference I did find was that in 2013, his BABIP was higher at .322 compared to his 3-year peak of .306. So it's pretty clear that he was inducing more groundballs and many of the hits he gave up were finding more holes than usual. Jackson cannot control what the defense behind him is doing. If the Cubs defense in 2013 was sub-par and allowed more balls in play to become hits than the average team, Jackson is not at fault for that. And luckily for us, what Jackson is able to control is shown to us in his FIP and xFIP at 3.79 and 3.86, respectively. Over a full run lower than his ERA of 4.98. What that spells to me is Jackson pitched just about the same as he had during his peak, save for some bad luck, and should improve going forward unless the Cubs defense lets him down some more.
One other thing I found that might have something to do with Jackson's 2013 is Wellington Castillo, the Cubs main catcher, who caught 22 of Jackson's 31 starts..
I'm not going to act like I know much about pitch framing because I surely don't. There is a growing opinion that pitch framing is a lot more important than many of us realize. Castillo is still a fairly young player that many in the organization say still has much to learn about catching. There is no great trove of evidence I can point at to blame Castillo's pitch framing for Jackson's season. However, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs did write an article back in July that gave one example of poor pitch framing by Castillo which may or may not be attributable to Jackson giving up more runs than normal. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-most-wrong-called-ball-of-june/
So I do expect Jackson will have a better season in 2014 because he is essentially the same pitcher he has been for the past several seasons. He did not regress or get worse in 2013. I believe it was the Cubs defense, and possibly young Wellington Castillo, that are to blame for what many consider a poor season.
Jackson was still a 2-win pitcher for the Cubs in 2013 and at the consensus going rate of $6M per win in MLB, Jackson was slightly underpaid at $11M last season.
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