Will The Real Edwin Jackson Please Stand Up?

By Kyle Johansen

After a 5.16 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 134 innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks in ‘10, Edwin Jackson transformed into a completely different pitcher after a deadline deal to the White Sox.  In 75 IP Jackson put up a 3.24 ERA and 1.21 WHIP including three straight starts in August with double digit strikeouts.  The main driver of Jackson’s turnaround was his command, with a strikeout rate improving from a 7.0 K/9 in the NL to a 9.2 K/9 in the AL while his walk rate went from a 4.0 BB/9 with Arizona to a 2.2 with the White Sox. 

The lower walk rate is believable after Jackson posted a 2.9 BB/9 in 2009 for Detroit.  There is a clear trend here, as Jackson also lowered his walk rate from 4.9 in 2007 to 3.8 in 2008.  There also is the fact that when the White Sox traded for Jackson, they claimed to have seen something in his approach that could be altered.  Needless to say, Jackson’s results in a tougher league and home stadium seem to legitimize this claim. 

While Jackson’s fastball has consistently registered right around 94 MPH, he has never piled up the strikeouts with a career 6.68 K/9 in 879 IP.  Has White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper really changed some aspect of Jackson’s game that made him a strikeout per inning pitcher?  The evidence says yes.

For starters, Jackson was either more aggressive with the White Sox, or there was more of an emphasis on throwing first pitch strikes as his rate went from 56.2% with Arizona to 58.7% with the White Sox (career 55.0%).

With the Diamondbacks Jackson threw his fastball 62.0% of the time with an average speed of 94 MPH, while throwing his slider on 25.9% of his pitches at an average speed of 85.4 MPH.  This percentage of fastballs was right in line with his past three seasons, each featuring the heater in over 60% of his pitches. 

On the White Sox, this number fell to 54% and the average speed of his fastball ticked up to 95.3 MPH.  With the drop in fastballs, his slider usage went through the roof, to 36.1%.  It was also clocked over two miles per hour faster than with the Diamondbacks at 87.6 MPH.

Using FanGraphs Pitch Type Values it’s clear that Jackson’s slider is by far his most effective pitch, so throwing it more often would seem to be an obvious move.  This trend began in 2009 when Jackson’s slider usage increased from 21.8% to 27.4%.  Is it a surprise then that 2009 was Jackson’s best season to date? 

While a veteran of eight years, Jackson is still only 27-years old and to this point is still developing as a pitcher. While one has to expect Jackson’s K/9 (9.2) and BB/9 (2.2) with the Sox to regress a bit due to the league and home stadium, his strikeout rate is on the rise while his walks are decreasing.  You can’t really ask for anything more.

Consider this: with a career K/BB of 1.73, last year with the White Sox Jackson’s K/BB shot up to 4.28.  Again, this was accumulated in just 75 innings of work, but an extreme gain like this should not be ignored.  Also consider that despite Jackson’s struggles in Arizona and 4.47 ERA on the year, his FIP at the end of the year was 3.86 with an xFIP of 3.85. 

Add in a ground ball rate approaching 50% and quality home run prevention at just 0.90 HR/9 and there is a lot to like. Jackson should provide a good amount of strikeouts and a usable ERA while pitching for a potent offense.  If the improved control sticks, he could also produce a sub-1.30 WHIP.

With an ADP of 192 I see Jackson as a bargain, but not a huge value.  Going a few picks before him are John Axford and Jeremy Hellickson, both solid choices and definite values who I’d take over Edwin.  If Jackson is sitting there in the 16th round though, he’s a nice upside play to round out your rotation.

What are your thoughts on Jackson?  Is his time with the White Sox the new Jackson?  Is he a player you would target?

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