Tuesday night was ugly. Edwin Jackson called it one of the worst starts of his career, and going by game score it was tied for the third worst since 2007. Either way it has been a rough last three months of pitching for Edwin Jackson. He finished last year with a 6.54 ERA in September and October, and now has followed that up with a 6.27 ERA to start his Cub career in April. Add into the mix is the fact that Matt Garza is hopefully two or three rehab starts away from rejoining the Cubs rotation, and Edwin Jackson is clearly pitching the worst of the five current Cubs starters. Is it time to panic about the most expensive Cubs arm?
There were red flags with Edwin Jackson heading into this offseason. The whimper that his season ended was the first. The declining velocity was also noted by some including Brett Taylor at Bleacher Nation. Edwin Jackson also had one of the lowest BABIP of his career in 2012, and was still an over 4 ERA pitcher.
2013 has been a very different story for Edwin Jackson. His walk rate and strikeout rate have both skyrocketed. He is well above his BB/9 and K/9 for his career and last season. This year his mark stands at over 4 walks and 9 strikeouts per 9 innings. Compare that to last season when he walked 2.75 batters and struck out 7.97. Looking at K% and BB% is a little more illustrative of the problem though. His K% of 21.7% is the highest of his career, but it is only a modest increase from last season’s mark of 21.3%. On the other hand the BB% has jumped from 7.3% to 10.8%. This is one of the many reasons why K% and BB% is a better measure of a pitcher’s performance than K/9 and BB/9.
Edwin Jackson’s biggest problem has been lack of control, and that control is manifesting itself in more hard hit balls this season. Edwin Jackson has a 22% LD% and his BABIP has swung in the opposite direction to .333 this season. You combine those numbers with the free baserunners and it is no surprise that Edwin Jackson’s strand rate is a ridiculously low 51.7%.
Edwin Jackson isn’t giving up a lot of homeruns though and combined with the high strikeout rate paints the picture of a slightly unlucky pitcher. His FIP is actually a very good 3.48 right now. His swinging strike percentage has dropped from last season’s 12.2% but at 9.6% is still above his career average of 9.5%. Swinging strike percentage is an important indicator of strikeouts. The decline means that while the strikeout rate is likely to decline some it still should allow an above average k rate. The issue appears from a statistical point not a lack of stuff but a lack of command.
Another interesting change has been Edwin Jackson’s pitch selection.
Edwin Jackson Pitch Selection…click to enlarge
Edwin Jackson has never thrown as many of his hard pitches in his career. He has always been dependent on his fastball and slider, but this year is the lowest rate of ever using the change. An interesting trend has been the increase of sinkers. I am not sure if that is better pitch identification in the pitchf/x data or a conscious change by the coaching staff. GW at Obstructed View has noted an increase in groundball rates of all the Cubs pitchers including Edwin Jackson.
I am uncertain if the change in pitch selection is causal or symptomatic of the results he has had in 2013. Either way I still think it is too early to panic about the signing of Edwin Jackson because a return of command is more likely than stuff at this age. Jackson is what he is and I think he will soon be fooling us into thinking he is more than he is with a good stretch of performances. Or the loss of command could be permanent, but it is far too soon to tell.