On New Year’s Eve an item on MLB Trade Rumors caught my eye: Edwin Jackson told Jon Morosi on MLB Network Radio that he’s planning on pitching in 2020. That would be unremarkable but for the fact that last year Jackson was — how to put this gently — awful. Horrendous. Lit up worse than a Christmas tree.
To pick one example, the onslaught of home runs in recent years has resulted in some crazy tallies, but somehow Jackson managed, in just 67.2 innings, to yield 23 of them in 2019. Somehow that wasn’t even the worst in baseball.
Jackson was acquired from Oakland ostensibly to plug a hole in the rotation, in the process eclipsing Octavio Dotel in joining his 14th MLB team. After a decent first start in San Francisco, he was shelled in his first home start against Boston — though he was far from the only one in what I christened the Victoria Day Fireworks Display. And then again (7 earned in 4 innings), and again (10 earned in 2.1 at Coors) and again (6 earned in 3.1).
The obvious answer was to use an opener before him, which worked for one start against Baltimore (more likely it was their anemic bats) before the bottom fell out June 17th against the Angels. After Derek Law pitched a perfect first inning, Jackson gave up back-to-back bombs to start the inning, and then a grand slam in not making it out of the inning. His ERA was 12.43, and the Jays put him on the injured list. Surprisingly, he actually made it back in mid-July for three innings of mop-up in Boston, scoreless albeit with a couple hard doubles.
The Blue Jays very quietly released Edwin Jackson last July over the weekend of Roy Halladay’s Hall of Fame induction, the transaction appearing on the team transactions page with nary a mention from the media, otherwise occupied and Jackson having already been DFA’d earlier in the week. I intended to write at the time about just where this dreadful display ranked in Blue Jays history, but didn’t get around to it. So now’s as good a time as any.
Minimum 20 innings pitched, Jackson holds both the worst ERA (11.12) and worst FIP (8.97) in Blue Jays history (also ERA- and FIP-, so adjusting for context doesn’t help him). At 10 innings, he’s only the second worst on both counts, with Chad Gaudin (13.15 ERA in 2005) and Victor Zambrano (11.17 FIP in 2007) outdoing him. On a single season basis, it used to be that Roy Halladay’s infamous 10.64 ERA in 2000 screened as the highest franchise history above 15 innings. Now that’s only the case raising the threshold to 30 innings.
So he was historically bad no matter how one cuts it. But it’s arguably worse just looking at how he was scorched on batted balls. One of the Statcast metrics is “barrels”, a measure of balls hit hard enough and at the right angle to very likely go for extra bases. It’s a small subset of all batted balls, about 6.3% or about 1-in-16 across MLB.
But not for Jackson. In the 2015-19 Statcast era, 119 pitchers have taken the mound for the Blue Jays (I’m only surprised it’s not higher). 69 have pitched enough to have had 50 batted balls. Here’s how those pitchers line up in terms of the rate at which batted balls were “barrelled”:
It’s not just that Jackson is more than double the average, it’s how much he’s above anyone else. The gap between Jackson at 16.4% and the next most barrelled pitcher in Clay Buchholz is the same as the difference between #2 and old friend Todd Redmond at #8.
It doesn’t look much better including the next Statcast category of “solid” contact quality:
Together, “barrels” and “solid” balls make up just over 12% of all batted balls, so Jackson is still the leader and double the average. But at least not head and shoulders above the rest.
I did one final ranking, screening balls hit at least 100 MPH off the ball at a launch angle of 10 degrees of higher, which is my preferred metric for really hard hit balls:
Interestingly, Jackson isn’t in the catbird’s seat here. It’s still really bad, almost double the overall 11% rate for Blue Jays pitchers, but essentially equal to four others (albeit all with smaller samples).
One final thought looking ahead to the 2020 Blue Jays and beyond. On all those charts, T.J. Zeuch ranks right around the top five. It’s a limited sample size and thus hardly dispositive, but nonetheless a pretty big red flag considering that Zeuch is going to have to manage contact to succeed. He’s never struck out many batters, and his bread and butter is getting weak contact on the ground. The last thing one wants to see his him giving up hard contact in the air.