Today the Nationals bolstered their starting rotation for the second time this season, agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with free agent righty Edwin Jackson. Dollar values of the deal have not yet been disclosed, but the deal is rumored to be worth somewhere in the ballpark of $8-$12 million*. According to reports, Mike Rizzo and company first started talking to Scott Boras (Jackson’s agent) about this deal about a week and a half ago, and after roughly 11 days of negotiating; Jackson will be pitching in DC for the 2012 season. Jackson spent time with the White Sox and the Cardinals this past season, and played a large part in helping St. Louis capture its second championship in 5 years (2006).
* Editor’s Note: The one year deal is reportedly for a total of $11 Million. Jackson will receive $9 Million in 2012 and the remaining $2 Million in 2013.
So, what exactly does Jackson bring to Washington? I think USA Today’s Steve Gardner phrased it perfectly by saying, “Jackson may be just average, but there’s value in that.” He’s exactly right. Take a look at what some above-average pitchers went for on the trade market this offseason. In fact, just zero in on the Gio Gonzalez trade. Gonzalez cost Washington 4 top prospects (A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, and Derek Norris), two of which cracked the bigs last year. Let’s just say an “average” pitcher is worth about half of that. That’s still giving up an MLB-ready prospect, along with a promising youngster who still has all the potential in the world. So even if the deal is worth $12 million, that’s still a bargain. Another way to phrase this is that it’s just money. At the end of the day, you’d rather lose a bit of cash (especially with Mr. Moneybags Ted Lerner as your boss) than lose two guys who could really help you out 2 or 3 years from now.
But, Mike Rizzo did not just make this move for bargain’s sake. He saw a player that would improve this ball club, and though he won’t admit it, give him some flexibility to potentially swing another trade. As described by Rizzo himself, “We saw an opportunity here to acquire a young, hard-throwing, power-pitching, innings-eating type of starting pitcher and we thought it was a good value at a good term. You can never have enough good, quality starting pitching, and we felt it was a good enough value to make him a National.” Though he does seemingly make an effort to emphasize how much of a value Jackson is, Rizzo also points out all of the strengths that Jackson has.
To me, the thing that stands out is where he says “innings-eating type.” The current projected rotation for 2012 is as follows: Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Jackson, and then Chien-Ming Wang. Both Strasburg and Wang will be on innings limits this year, as both are coming back from respective injuries. As a result, we will likely be seeing Davey Johnson pulling both guys out of ballgames earlier than the average starting pitcher (I’m going to guess he gives them about 6 innings a start), which means that we will be seeing the bullpen used extensively every time the rotation gets to the second and fifth spot. Although Jackson is not involved in that scenario whatsoever, adding him does help to fix the bullpen stamina dilemma a bit. Jackson has averaged about 200 innings a season over the last 4 seasons, giving at least 183 in each. This means that Jackson will be able to go deep into ballgames, and hopefully give the bullpen a night off, with the exception of maybe Drew Storen and a few specialists (for one out each) to go the final 2 innings of a game. Jackson will also be one of two pitchers on the staff who could go 200 innings next year (pending a miracle). As previously mentioned, Strasburg and Wang have their innings limits, and Jordan Zimmermann has not pitched more than 161 innings in a season thus far in his career. He is still quite young (25), so I could see management watching over his innings as well. Gonzalez is the only non-Jackson pitcher on the staff who has eclipsed 200 innings in a season since 2007 (Wang threw 199.1 in 2007, but again, he has that innings limit). Gonzalez has pitched over 200 innings in each of the past two seasons (200.2 in 2010, 202 in 2011), so pairing him with Jackson will make the bullpen’s job much easier.
One thing that I like about Jackson is that he isn’t just your typical innings-eater. He’s not one of those 4.80 ERA guys who is just capable of throwing a baseball for 7 innings but leaves his team in a losing situation upon exiting. He is a solid pitcher in the innings he pitches in. I like to refer to him as an “innings-producer,” because he “eats” innings while still being effective. Last season, Jackson pitched to a 3.79 ERA in 199.2 (basically 200) combined innings with Chicago (AL) and St. Louis. Though that ranked fourth amongst projected 2012 rotation starters (only beating out Wang’s 4.04), his ERA was below 4.00 and his innings ranked 2nd (199.2 vs. Gonzalez’s 202). To me, that defines an innings-producer.
Although the rotation already had plenty, Jackson also brings some strikeouts to this staff. Last year, he had 148 K’s in his 199.2 innings, which came out to a 5.9 K/9 ratio. Not overwhelming, but not bad either. Having the ability to strike out batters in clutch situations (where any other method of retiring the batter would score a third base runner) was something that the Nationals struggled with last year, so bringing a pitcher with that talent in his back pocket is a plus.
However, with those strikeouts comes a plethora of walks (2.7BB/9 last season). Back in 2010 when Jackson was on the Diamondbacks, he pitched a 108-pitch no hitter. Why such a high pitch count? He walked 8 batters. The high walk rate is particularly worrisome considering that Jackson will be placed in the same rotation as Gonzalez, who let the AL in walks in 2011 (4.1BB/9 last season). Having two pitchers with shaky command is never a good thing (obviously), but hopefully Jackson’s pros outweigh this one dreaded con.
So, this signing gets a solid B from me. Had it not been for the high walk-rate, I’d give it an A if I weren’t a bit concerned about Gio/Jackson being the worst 1-2 punch for walks next year. Jackson does bring what Mike Rizzo sought after, however, and that deserves some merit. Nice move overall.