Unless Edwin Jackson is signed by a team he has already played with, he will be pitching for his eighth team in 2013. He is 29 years old. Switching teams is common for relief pitchers. But young starters who have made thirty or more starts for six straight seasons usually get to hang their hats somewhere for a little while. Durable and above replacement pitchers usually find a home and yet Jackson has played for five teams in the last four seasons. Pitchers a lot less successful than him have already been signed this off season. Jackson seems to be down to two suitors who may or may not be interested in giving the 29 year old a four year deal. Something seems amiss here.
Jackson has gone 59-52 as a starter the last five seasons. He has a sub-four FIP his last three. While control was once a problem, he has a walk rate under three per nine innings in his last two seasons. His ground ball percentage has been over 43% for the last three seasons and over 47% in two of his last three. His fastball has averaged 94.1 MPH for his entire career and was just slightly less than that at 93.5 this past season. He is solid rotation stuff and has shown durability and resilience. And yet his travel trunk is covered with city stickers.
And he is a known quantity. In his last four seasons, his fWAR has been remarkably consistent: 3.6, 3.9, 3.9 and 2.7. That is an average value of $15.5 million per season, good for the 25th highest over that time among all starters. Only seventeen starting pitchers have made more starts than Jackson in the last five seasons. Yet, at this point, only two teams are interested in him.
What are the negatives involved with Edwin Jackson? Oh, there have been hints that he isn't a great clubhouse guy, but we're not really going to buy into that, are we? Yes, he gives up just under one homer per nine innings. His strikeout rate is okay, but not spectacular. He has some trouble going deep into games and has averaged 6.22 innings per start. But half of that at least can be seen as quite a few National League starts where he would be pinch hit for in close games.
But there are signs that he is getting better as a pitcher too. In his last two seasons, the amount of pitches out of the strike zone swung at against Jackson have risen sharply. And last season, the contact rate against those pitches out of the strike zone was the lowest of his career. His first pitch strike percentage has never been higher than it has been the last two seasons. So it seems clear that he is still learning his craft.
And yet, only two teams are left in the running for the four years and $59 million he is asking. There is an understanding that Edwin Jackson is never really going to be a dominant pitcher. He is not really an All Star kind of guy. But he is a solid three-hole starter with durability and above average stuff. With pitching as thin as it is around baseball, Jackson seems a lot more attractive than the market suggests.
Understandably, Jackson is looking for a place to call home for the next four years. His last four years suggest there are worse options for teams out there. This wanderer seems like a better deal than the market has dictated.