Edwin Jackson’s Great Start

In a matchup against his former team – although not against many of his former teammates – Edwin Jackson carved through the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday afternoon. Over eight innings he struck out 13 while allowing just four hits, a single walk and an earned run. His first start against the Cleveland Indians wasn’t as good, but he did get seven strikeouts over six innings. Needless to say, Jackson has had an encouraging first two starts.

As I wrote about a year ago, Jackson is pretty much a fastball-slider pitcher. And over the years he has become increasingly reliant on his slider, throwing it just under 30% of the time last season. In his first two starts this year that trend has continued, as he threw about 51% fastballs, 42% sliders, 6% changeups and a curve or two.

Fastball-slider pitchers – as Dave Cameron noted in his article about Michael Pineda, and Tommy Rancel in his article about Alexi Ogando – usually have a tough time against opposite-handed batters. But Jackson has a tiny platoon split over his career even though against left-handed batters he throws mostly just fastballs and sliders. This year he has faced lefty-heavy lineups from both Cleveland and Tampa Bay and thrown 52% fastballs and 41% sliders against lefties. That he can succeed with his slider against batters on both sides of the plate is pretty incredible, so I wanted to check out the location of those sliders in 2011.

Jackson has a tight pattern of slider locations, showing great command of the pitch. Against right-handed batters it has been just about perfect: nine swings and EIGHT whiffs. But amazingly, against left-handed batters it has been successful as well; 22% of his pitches have resulted in swinging strikes and 46% whiffs per swing. Lefties made contact on the pitch when it was in the fat part of the zone, but when it was down-and-in they missed often, and Jackson has been able to locate it well enough to make it work.

Jackson’s way is definitely not the route that Pineda and Odanga should take. Most pitchers cannot get opposite-handed batters out routinely with only a fastball and a slider. Jackson is just an outlier, a fastball-slider starter with almost no platoon split.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

21 Responses to “Edwin Jackson’s Great Start”

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  1. Pg says:

    Watching him pitch yesterday, it was almost like he was throwing two different types of sliders. One with lateral movement and one that was almost like a splitter that would just die right before it crossed the plate. I know the Rays are really struggling offensively, but he was utterly dominant.

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  2. Keith_Allen says:

    That’s EJax. He has all the talent in the world. His problem is himself. If he doesn’t get run support, he complains to teammates, twitters about it, and then he gets traded again.

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  3. Jack Nugent says:

    From the looks of it, Jackson’s slider is good enough that when he keeps it down and in to lefties he can generate plenty of swings and misses. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get hit around a little more if his slider starts to catch too much of the plate, but if he continues to keep it near their feet, I won’t be shocked to see him keep this up.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    To build on something that another poster said in another thread, there is *something* to the “Don Cooper Effect”.

    In this were a Dave Duncan situation, we’d be reading all about the Magic of Duncan.

    Regardless, Jackson, Cooper, and the staff seem to be a good, working, combination.

    The fastball-slider combination does bring up (somewhat) a health concern, especially for a high pitch, high inning guy.

    Edwin Jackson seemingly takes a lot of heat for being over-rated or not that good, and I have never understood that entirely. Last 2 seasons, 3.5 and 3.7 WAR, and through 2 starts this year (0.6 WAR *grin*).

    That’s more WAR than Scherzer, even if it primarily due to the IP difference (which is also a valuable pitching quality).

    I think EJax is a pretty good pitcher. I’m not sure where he ranks exactly on the ChiSox depth chart, but as a #3, he’s good … even decent as a #2, as a #4 he’s a big plus. He doesn’t necessarily always fit the profile of what we, as a saber-community, prefer (too many walks, too defense reliant, etc) … but he does produce value.

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    • Matt says:

      If you look at what he has done with the White Sox, he does fit into what the advanced stat community prefers. In 89 innings, he has 97 k’s when compared to 23 walks. Thats pretty fantastic, especially when considering he produces ground balls at an above average rate. High K’s plus low walks and a high GB% equals exactly what you look for in a pitcher. Of course, it is only 89 innings, but Don Cooper does seem to have had a profound impact on his control and consistency.

      As for the start yesterday, that might be the best slider he has ever thrown. It was like a splitter on steroids in its diving movement. Just amazing to watch, and if he can throw it like that consistently, he would have an argument in having the best slider in the game.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Yesterday was also a coldish, foggy day … where the dense air may have caused the ball to drop more than usual. Be interesting to see slider velocity yesterday versus average.

        As for the “FG preference” thing … I did not bring up the tenure with the CWS, because it’s an SSS issue. But, prior to that. In the last 2 seasons, he’s “out-WAR’d” Scherzer, but to read the comments, you’d think one was an All-Star and the other a 5th starter.

        EJax wasn’t lucky in 2009 and 2010, he can pitch … and at better than average quality.

        If he keeps doing what he has been doing as a ChiSox SP, then he will be at All-Star level, and with the K, BB, etc he would be a “FG favorite” (if they/we can let the past go).

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    • MikeS says:

      Might have been me commenting on the many guys Coop has helped.

      As for what number he is, I don’t think it really matters on that staff. Guillen decided that Buehrle was pictching opening day and he wanted to split up the lefties which made Danks #3 so Jackson and Floyd were going to be #2 and #4. Peavy or TBA #5. The rotation was pretty much set before pitchers and catchers reported. Any one of them could be good or bad for a stretch so It’s kind of hard to say who is #1, 2, 3 or 4.

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    • The Ancient Mariner says:

      Though Cooper usually does it by teaching them a cutter, so Jackson’s a little atypical that way.

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      • MikeS says:

        That’s a myth because it worked so well for Loaiza. I don’t think Matt Thornton, Bobby Jenks or Jose Contreras ever threw a cutter and they were all succesful Cooper projects.

        Would be interesting to see a post on how Cooper or Duncan work their magic. Or even if it is magic. Maybe it’s just dumb luck although that seems unlikely. Still, Leo Mazzone was thought to be one of those guys until he left Atlanta. So who knows?

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  5. Sky says:

    So, Dave, how is Jackson’s location against lefties different from other fastball-slider pitcher? Or is it also a velocity or movement thing?

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Sky, that is the big question. I don’t think it is just a location thing. I am not sure that it is something that can be explained with the pitchf/x data. At least there is nothing I can pick out. I would love to know.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      vLHBs the key seems to be that it isn’t just “down and in” but “DOWN and IN”, in other words if they didn’t swing, it’d almost hit them in the foot.

      Looks like a strike for most of the way, and by the time the batter decides it wouldn’t be a good idea to swing, it’s to late.

      Be very interesting to see if he work sthe slider off of an inside fastball to increase its deceptiveness.

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      • Sky says:

        So how do some guys get the hitter to swing at these DOWN and IN sliders? Are they harder? Do they break more? Do they break differently? Do they look more similar to a fastball? Is the red dot tougher to see? Are they releasing from more straight on or more wide?

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    Well the basis of both guys’ philosophy is simply “more strikes” … “with movement”. Then they do *something* to coach that in to reality.

    CWS bullpen philosophy has been velocity, velocity, velocity.

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    • MikeS says:

      I was going to say the same thing about “throw strikes” but doesn’t every pitching coach encourage their pitchers to throw strikes?

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  7. IMFink'sPa says:

    I would be interested in seeing the movement on his slider. Slider guys like Pineda usually throw big sweeping breakers that are real hard on righties, but much easier on lefties. As noted by several others, above, Jackson throws a real tights spinning slider that seems to break later with sharp downward tilt and less side-to-side action. I wouldn’t compare it to the split, as much as I would compare it to its cousin, the hard cutter.

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  8. glentein says:

    Worth pointing out that both of Jackson’s starts came against very weak lineups: Indians and Rays.

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    • fredsbank says:

      i bet you’re one of those people who downed on strasburg last year too, huh

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      • B N says:

        Probably. I bet he was one of those guys who said “Psstch, that kid is throwing 100 MPH but I bet he’ll just blow out his arm and be out for the season in no time” – But Strasburg showed him, right? … Oh… wait a minute…

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  9. jirish says:

    Edwin Jackson has always had good stuff. It’s not like he hasn’t pitched some good, maybe even a few near great games along the way. He’s had a few solid, if unspectacular years. I think everyone would agree that Jackson has been wild and inconsistent. Fix that, and you have an above average pitcher.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Jackson continues on with a good year. Don Cooper is a very good pitching coach who has had a good record of success. He actually came up through the White Sox system-he was Mark Buerhle’s pitching coach from the time he entered the Sox organization. They advanced through the system together. Cooper probably had a good idea on how to help Jackson before the Sox acquired him.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    Good point. I’m certain Cooper was involved in feedback about the acquisition of Jackson, even if they had plans to trade him after getting him.

    He also seems to have a good tolerance for the workload.

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