In a must-read blog post, the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore spoke with Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty about his plans for spring training as well as his specific interactions with different Nats starters over the winter. One of the most promising tid-bits that McCatty shared is that they may have pinpointed something in newly acquired starter Edwin Jackson's wind-up that was inadvertently tipping pitches.
"Over the past three seasons, the league has hit .283/.344/.438 with no runners on base against Jackson, when he is pitching with a wind-up. The league has hit .246/.308/.385 with men on, when he’s pitching from the stretch. If the Nationals really can make him more effective from the wind-up, the $11 million they spent to acquire Jackson could look like a bargain."
This is a pretty interesting observation. It certainly is possible that he developed some sort of tick in his windup that allowed hitters to know what was coming when the bases were empty. When you think about a pitcher who throws four pitches, both out of the wind up and from the stretch, that is eight potential deliveries for a pitcher to manage. When you also consider the fact that Jackson entered the majors at an incredibly young age (19), it may be the case that he never fully developed each one of those deliveries as well as he could.
For Jackson, it may just be the case that he just feels more comfortable out of the stretch in general. That is a trait you see more often in former relievers who turn into starters, however, it's a much simpler motion which can help hurlers focus on control and delivery.
Digging a little deeper here, you find that Jackson's splits don't just get better when there are runners on as opposed to having the bases empty, but it seems that the more difficult the situation, the better he pitches. This indicates that it could be possible that the windup is not the issue for Jackson, but rather that he mentally is able to deliver better under high pressure situations.
Jackson in 2011:
Bases Empty: .339/.390/.442, 69 K, 32 BB, 424 Batters Faced
Runners On: .239/.292/.327, 79K, 30 BB, 433 Batters Faced
RISP: .216/.279/.312, 58K, 20 BB, 247 Batters Faced
RISP w/2 Outs: .202/.255/.293, 27K, 7BB, 106 Batters Faced
Bases Loaded: .091/.125/.063, 5k, 1BB, 16 Batters Faced
None on/No out: .397/.443/.500, 27K, 15 BB, 210 Batters Faced
None on/ 1/2 outs: .284/.339/.385, 42K, 17 BB, 218 Batters Faced
Men on/2 outs: .240/.293/.357, 31K, 11BB, 157 Batters Faced
What do those numbers say to you? Is it possible Edwin Jackson is “clutch,” or is there something in his repertoire that makes it easier for him to get betters out with runners on base? Conventional wisdom insists that it is harder to pitch with runners on base because your infielders are moved out of optimal position, but Jackson’s career totals echo the numbers above.
It will be interesting to see if there is anything McCatty can do to make Jackson more comfortable out of the wind-up, but it very well could be the case that it has nothing to do with his delivery. It could simply be that the more difficult the situation, the more focused Jackson gets. In that case, he needs to tackle the mental side of the game more than the physical.