One player was welcomed to Chicago this week when the Cubs signed Edwin Jackson to a four year contract worth $52 million. Another player, A.J. Pierzynski, bid the Windy City adieu leaving the White Sox as a free agent and signing a one year contract with the Rangers. Jackson goes from being an overlooked member of a loaded Nationals rotation in 2012 to being relied on to pitch near the top of the Cubs rotation this year. Pierzynski is coming off a career year and is tasked with helping the Rangers offense cope with the loss of free agents Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli.
Jackson has been a workhorse over the last five years, totaling just under 1,000 innings, and ranking 19th in innings pitched during that time frame. A big part of the reason he's been able to pile up innings is that he's stayed healthy. His injury history section on his Baseball Prospectus player page tells the whole story. He hasn't been on the disabled list since 2004, and he hasn't suffered from any shoulder or elbow injuries.
Beyond staying healthy, Jackson was able to tally his innings due to pitching well enough to stay in a rotation. That said, he hasn't pitched well enough to remain in any one place for consecutive full seasons over the last five years. He has pitched for six teams since the start of the 2008 season. Jackson has been consistent in some ways, and inconsistent in others. His xFIP has been in the 3.7s for each of the past three years, and his walks per-nine innings pitched (BB/9) has been below three in three of the last four years, but his strikeout rate and groundball rate have fluctuated year-to-year. Last season hints that Jackson may be putting it all together. He recorded his best walk rate (2.75 BB/9) and strikeout rate (7.97 K/9) of his career. Jackson also had a healthy groundball rate of 49 percent in 2012 according to Baseball Prospectus. His biggest problem last year was an unkind home run rate. A little bit more luck on flyballs could lead to a big season in 2013.
That's always been the story with Jackson, though, that this could be the year. It's easy to understand why. He teases with performance on the diamond, but it's his stuff that is the real tease. Jackson's power repertoire features two mid-90s fastballs, a changeup, curveball, and wipeout slider. His slider is easily his best pitch. He uses the pitch as a put away offering against both righties and lefties, using it over 10 percent above the baseline with two strikes according to Brooks Baseball. Many fastball-slider pitchers fair better against same handed opposing hitters, and Jackson fits into that group. Jackson had a 20 point True Average (TAv) platoon split last season. Of the 23 home runs Jackson allowed to opposing hitters last year, 16 were to left-handed batters. Jackson's changeup and curveball have helped him “get by,” against left-handed batters, and if he's ever able to kick his play up a notch against them, he'll become a very good starter. As it stands, he's a back of the fantasy rotation option in medium size or larger mixed leagues.
Pierzynski was one of the most shocking fantasy studs last year. From 2009-2011 Pierzynski smacked 30 home runs, but in 2012 he ripped 27 home runs, the second highest total at the catcher position. The 27 home runs were nine more than his previous career high of 18 that he hit all the way back in 2005. Quite an amazing feat for a catcher playing in his age 35 season. It also looks like a once in a career type season for Pierzynski.
He was helped greatly by a home run-per-flyball rate (HR/FB) that was more than double his career rate coming into the year. Pierzynski has spent the last seven seasons playing in home run friendly U.S. Cellular Field, but he shouldn't be hurt moving to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The two parks have a nearly identical home run park factor for left-handed batters. When Pierzynski's home run total drops into the teens this year, it will be the result of his HR/FB rate regressing closer to his career norm, not a change of ballparks. Pierzynski's fantasy stock is up, but let someone else overpay for his services this year. It's more likely he drops out of the top 10 at the catcher position this year than that he repeats as a top five player at the position. He's a viable option at catcher in all but the shallowest of leagues, and even in those leagues, he's worth drafting on the unlikely chance his 2012 season is something more than an aberration.