Why does Edwin Jackson suck?

Why does Edwin Jackson suck?
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Rice Cube wrote about Edwin Jackson last night, but I have a much simpler statement about Edwin Jackson‘s pitching.
Edwin Jackson had been a model of inconsistent consistency before arriving in Chicago. This resulted in Edwin Jackson pitching for six teams over nine years, but also had five years of at least 180 innings pitched with an ERA under 4.50. Jackson’s FIP also pointed to potential better results than the ERA. His FIP declined from 4.90 in 2007 to his career low of 3.55 in 2011 at age 27. The year prior to signing with the Cubs Jackson managed a respectable 4.03 ERA with a 3.85 FIP.

In Chicago, his results would have been fascinating if not for being so maddeningly terrible. The only thing that the two years have had in common is terrible results in run prevention and peripherals pointing to better results in the future. In 2013, Edwin Jackson was proof of Chris Bosio‘s groundball wizardry with a career best 51.3% groundball rate. This year his groundball rate has dropped below 40% for the first time since 2009. His pitch selection does point to why this change has happened. His usage of sinker and cutters were at career highs last year and have dropped significantly in 2014.Brooksbaseball-Chart
Another aspect of his pitch usage is the complete disappearance of the changeup.

The reason for this loss of effectiveness might be a decreasing gap in velocity between the change and fastball. The fastball velocity has been declining for several seasons with a major drop occurring in 2012 but continuing steadily through this year. The changeup has also increased slightly in velocity to the point where the average gap in velocity is down to 6 mph from the 8 mph in 2011.
Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)
Edwin Jackson has tried to compensate for the lack of a changeup by throwing more curveballs than ever in his career, and it is not working. Left handed bats are torching Edwin Jackson for a .906 OPS compared to .700 OPS of right handers. His career numbers against left handed versus right handed bats .787 to .751.

The confusing part is that if the explanation was just a decline in stuff then his strikeout rates wouldn’t have rebounded to (or near) career best in strikeout rate (depends if you prefer K/9 or K%). In 2013 his K rates had dropped significantly and that was accompanied by a drop in swinging strike rate. This year the strikeouts and swinging strikes are back, but the walks have shot through the roof. The cause of which might be simple to explain.

Edwin Jackson is clearly aware of this issue given the infamous only fastball spring training appearance, and if a pitching expert like Harry Pavlidis is saying there isn’t an easy answer I certainly can’t provide one in this space. There are certainly statistical indicators of this factor with his percentage of pitches out of the zone increasing for all pitches and just fastballs as these charts show.Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)
Though command is not just the number of walks a pitcher gives up or the frequency of getting a pitch in the zone. Edwin Jackson has been hit very hard this year with an unbelievably bad 27% line drive rate. That is why despite the positive peripherals one can’t assume positive regression eventually. Or as Harry Pavlidis put it.

And unfortunately it is everything that is getting hit hard right now.Brooksbaseball-Chart (4)
The break couldn’t come at a better time for Edwin Jackson because they really need Jackson to bounce back. The Cubs are really short on innings the rest of the way here. There are a plethora of fifth starter options, but asking those types to fill out three rotation spots without taxing a bullpen might be too much. Edwin Jackson should get the rest of the year to try to grind his way through the problem as long as he can handle it mentally. A number of people have suggested the switch to a reliever, including myself, which may not be out of the question next year. This is topic I feel in good company.


The splits suggest that his time at a starter might be limited even if he could regain command that his effectiveness as a starter might be declining.

The only issue is that not is Edwin Jackson’s average velocity declining, but his maximum velocity has dropped even quicker.
Brooksbaseball-Chart (5)
Again perhaps Edwin Jackson could be a(n overpaid) weapon in short relief. His stuff is still good enough to generate swings and misses. It isn’t likely to be a smooth transition as his second time through the order has he been the best results so far this year with numerous struggles making it through the first time through. That said unless he fixes something this year Edwin Jackson can’t keep getting the ball every fifth day in 2015. And with no teams likely to take any salary and or give up anything of value for Edwin Jackson means the bullpen has to be on the table despite Renteria’s temporary declaration.

Update: Presented without comment.


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  • Since Bill "Margaret" Murray is a Cubs fan, he should know "what the hell is that?"

    mlb.com statistics indicate that he had a sub-4 ERA only with the Tigers in 2009, and in 2010 and 2011, mostly with CWS, some with St.L. So, besides regressing to his prior mean, you indicate that he is losing his skills, too.

    But cubs.com has a story that he starts vs. the D-Backs away Friday, so the chase for the first draft pick begins.

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