There was some interesting talk yesterday on Twitter about Edwin Jackson. We're obviously all frustrated with a pitcher we all thought could be a solid, innings eating #3 guy in the rotation.
One thing we all pretty much agreed upon as bloggers, and that is that this front office is going to make mistakes, but you can't fault their process on this signing. Jackson was still in him prime years and under 30 years old, he was not attached to a comp pick, and he has had a track record of success, averaging 3.25 WAR over the past 4 seasons. That's a solid mid-rotation pitcher and, from a statistical standpoint, there is no reason to expect a decline.
Instead, he went on to have an 8-18 season with a 4.98 ERA. Still, many of us here had hope it was just a fluke and while we didn't expect him to anchor the rotation this year, we had at least hoped to see the 200 inning, .500 pitcher with the ERA in the 3.80 range.
The reason for that wasn't just blind hope, the peripherals were still in line with his career averages. The FIP was similar to the previous 4 seasons, so there was some reason to think that Jackson has had some amount of bad luck since joining the Cubs.
It's sound analysis and Adam's point was a very basic one: that when Edwin Jackson doesn't have his slider working, he is not effective. While that may not be shocking, it raises an interesting point.
Yesterday, our old writing partner Tom Loxas, now of Cubs Insider, asked if may be that Jackson is not a heady enough pitcher. At first my response was that heady or not, he has succeeded with his approach in the past. But it did get me thinking. Maybe there's a reason that a well-liked, good guy like Jackson has been passed along from team to team for his entire career. Maybe there's a reason two teams that have good reputations for getting the most out of pitchers (the White Sox with Don Cooper and the Cardinals with Dave Duncan) made no attempt to keep him after partial seasons. Perhaps there was a reason that the Nationals let him go without a comp offer, then basically signed a fading, high risk Dan Haren for the same money.
I started thinking about that mysterious quality we refer to as "pitchability".
Does Edwin Jackson have it?
I do not know if he does but I can definitely say this: He never really needed it. With a consistent mid 90s fastball and a slider that ranged from the mid to upper 80s -- who needs pitchability? Just rear back and dare them to hit those pitches. When they were on, he could be nearly unhittable -- and in fact, they were unhittable for one particular start in July of 2010.
But, going back to Adam's point, what if those pitches are not working? And perhaps even more to the point today: What if that stuff is working but just isn't as dominant as it used to be?
A quick glance at Fangraphs shows that Jackson has shown a steady drop in velocity in his fastball, slider, and curve since 2011. Considering the first two are his best pitches, it's a bit concerning. If Jackson can no longer rear back and beat hitters with just his fastball and/or his slider -- is he good enough? If not, can he adjust?
Pitchers adjust to a drop in their stuff all the time. Some compensate by improving their command and locating better, but that has not been the case with Jackson -- if anything, he has regressed slightly in that respect. Others develop a new pitch, such as a cutter -- or improve on their secondaries as a fallback option.
Without yet seeing Adam's Pitch F/X analysis, it seemed to me that this is closer to Jackson's strategy. He was trying to use his curve more, particularly on LH hitters (who collectively up up an .816 OPS vs. Jackson last year) when he tried to back door the pitch and land it on the outside corner. He's also thrown his cutter and his two-seam fastball much more often as a Cub.
It's a sign that Jackson and the Cubs understand he can't just get away solely with that fastball/slider combo, but so far he's struggling to make the adjustment from pure power pitcher to one with a more balanced approach.
So while the combination of track record, age, and lack of comp pick all made sense when it came to the Jackson signing, the Cubs mistake may have been overestimating how quickly Jackson could make those adjustments. It's early but we can't deny that Jackson has been a big disappointment from the start. The only questions now are can he make the adjustments he needs to continue to be productive? And if not, what do the Cubs do with an ineffective starter who is due over $30M over the next 3 years?