When Scott Boras and company decided they didn’t like the smell of the longer term offers Edwin Jackson was receiving and started kicking the tires on a one-year deal, it was almost tailor made for a team like the Washington Nationals.
They project well back of the Atlanta Braves, but after failing to acquire an impact bat, there were still a few wins to squeak out of a rotation spot at the expense of trotting John Lannan out there every fifth day. Three wins (which might be optimistic) might keep them hanging around long enough to keep their fan base excited throughout the summer and if the ball bounces their way more often than not, perhaps even flirt with a wild card birth.
And heck, even if the wheels fall off, Jackson should be pretty easy to unload at the trade deadline for some toolsy kind of kid few have heard of in Portland.
But Jackson has been rather sneaky-valuable in fantasy circles and according to Mock Draft Central, he’s being selected right around the 19th round in standard 12 team drafts, so he doesn’t come at a high price. Does this move to Washington help or hurt his fantasy value (assuming he passes the physical, of course)?
As far as park factors go, pitching in Nationals Park is a little less favorable for pitchers than pitching at Busch, but a little better than pitching at U.S. Cellular Field. Home runs don’t necessarily plague him, but at a career 9.7% HR/FB rate, he’s right about league average and that includes pitching for some very home run friendly environments in Arizona and Chicago. But really, Nationals Park shouldn’t help him in a significant way from a fantasy perspective.
The available research out there suggests that a move from the American League to the National League should benefit a pitcher most prominently in strikeouts, and Jackson’s stats have done nothing but cast a mouthful of spent Copenhagen in the general direction of such a notion. Jackson actually loses about half a strikeout per 9 innings while pitching in the NL versus the AL. Go figure. But you should expect Jackson to pick up a K/9 rate somewhere in the range of his 7.0 career average, and if you’re the gambling type, you might expect him to finally realize the benefit of pitching to the pitcher every once in a while and see an uptick in his strikeout numbers.
Now, this is getting pretty granular especially for a pitcher who would occupy the back end of a fantasy rotation — but one interesting tidbit to take away from his split time in 2011 was his repertoire. While in Chicago (in 2011), Jackson posted a 3.25 FIP, 7.18 K/9 (18.6% K rate), and had a 7.2% HR/FB rate in homer-friendly Chicago. In his 78 innings with the Cardinals, he posted a 4.01 FIP, 5.88 K/9 (15% K rate), and a 9.5% HR/FB rate in spacious Busch.
While not necessarily a smoking gun, the one glaring change was his use of his two seam fastball as he was throwing it just over 13% of the time in Chicago and after the trade, he threw it nearly 28% of the time. The results were not good. Using Pitch F/X values/100, his slider was almost equally effective for both teams (and was his best pitch), his fastball was marginally less effective as a Cardinal, but this increased usage of the two seam fastball saw his pitch value drop from two runs above average to two runs below average. So not only was he using the pitch twice as much, it was getting hammered. There was no change in velocity, just a dramatic change in effectiveness.
While a Cardinal, he saw his ground ball rate fall from 46.9% to 39.1%, giving almost all of that margin away in line drives, seeing it rise from 23.5% to 27%. And there’s nothing in the typical luck categories to say that this was a fluke, although you could certainly cry foul over the sample size.
The safest thing to do is expect some approximation of the pitcher Edwin Jackson has been over the past several seasons, demonstrating an ability to strike out a touch over 7 batters per 9 innings pitched, keep his ERA south of 4.00, and in general, be hittable enough to have a pretty unattractive WHIP up over 1.40.
But Jackson is just 28, and he’s once again pitching for a big pay day, which is the kind of motivation we’ve seen prove fairly effective in the past. If he can regain the effectiveness of his two-seam fastball that he had in Chicago over the course of the 2012 season, it would do wonders in setting up his secondary pitches and ought to have a noticeable impact on his performance. I’m not saying I’m bullish on Edwin Jackson, but I do think there’s real potential for him to have a strong enough season to warrant selecting him ahead of his current projected slot. I’d prefer to have him as my sixth starter off the bench on a solid mixed-league team and wait for lightning to strike, but if he’s your #5, you could be pleasantly surprised with the results.