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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.