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Edwin Jackson and His New Contract

Earlier this week, the Arizona Diamondbacks settled with former Dodgers/Rays/Tigers pitcher Edwin Jackson, buying out his last two years of arbitration for $13.35 million. According to Cot’s Contracts, Jackson will receive an $800,000 signing bonus, $4.2 million in 2010, and $8.35 million in 2011. The general rule of thumb is to assume the team would be paying him 60 and 80 percent of the player’s “open market” value for the second and third arbitration years. Lumping the signing bonus in with the 2010 salary, the open market value of the contract is about $18.8 million, which in the current market (about $3.5 million per marginal win) would be an average contract for about a 2.7 win player, assuming a 0.5 win-a-season decline. Is this a good value for the Diamondbacks?

Pitcher win value calculations are more complicated than for position players, so I won’t lay out every step — read here for how FanGraphs does it. CHONE projects Jackson’s 2010 FIP at 4.33. Scaled to runs allowed and assuming last season’s MLB run environment, I get 4.76. That is worse than 2009’s average runs per game (4.61), but we also need to account Arizona being a serious hitter’s park (I use a 1.06 park adjustment), which brings his FIP-RA down to 4.49, making Jackson a .513 pitcher (using PythagenPat). .380 is the general replacement level for starters, but following Tom Tango I use .370 (AL) and .390 (NL) to account for relative league difficulty. Over CHONE’s projected 30 starts and 178 innings for Jackson (and accounting for how he impacts the run environment), he projects as a 2.2 WAR pitcher.

It looks like Arizona overpaid a bit. But we should acknowledge that it is very difficult to project playing time. If Jackson repeats 2009’s 214 innings and 33 starts at the FIP projected above, his projected WAR goes up to the 2.7 WAR for which the Diamondbacks are paying. The Fans project 196 innings and 32 starts, which puts Jackson at 2.4 WAR.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we’re assuming an average 0.5-win-a-season decline due to aging-based attrition. While we should be cautious before making any player an “exception,” Jackson won’t turn 27 until September, and hasn’t had major arm trouble recently, so that is another factor to consider.

Jackson is interesting. He was born in (then-West) Germany, was a top pitching prospect with the Dodgers, got traded to Tampa Bay for a couple middle relievers, then the Rays moved him for Matt Joyce after Jackson’s seemingly good 2009. Jackson’s ERA has consistently been better than his FIP (which has, in turn, been slightly better than his xFIP), yet the “collapse” some expected from him after the trade to Detroit has not occurred. It’s interesting just how poorly (according to pitch-type linear weights) Jackson’s fastball has fared against opposing hitters, while his slider has been excellent the last two years. Perhaps he figured that out in 2009, as he threw the slider more often than before, which in turn might be why he was able to get hitters to swing at pitches out of the zone (and strike out) at a much higher rate in 2009. Jackson still has trouble getting ahead in the count, however (54.4% career F-Strike). While Jackson may not be have dominating stuff, his durability is an asset.

Returning to the original topic — while there is reason to believe this deal is fair to both sides, I would give slight “edge” to Jackson. How that factors into the evaluation of The Big Trade is another question.