By signing Edwin Jackson the Miami Marlins added a veteran back-end starter to complement their young rotation. Many Fish fans are uninspired, however, and for good reason. Jackson has struggled recently, with an ERA of 4.03, 4.94, and 6.33 over his last three years (2012-2014) as a starter. However, in my last article, I showed you that Jackson has some strength to his game - he possesses an elite slider. Now I will tell you a different story about Edwin Jackson, a pitcher who has major control issues and struggles to get batters out.
When taking a look at Jackson's stats, it becomes clear why he struggles - he is hittable when he falls behind in the count. While all pitchers struggle when they fall behind, Jackson makes this a habit. From 2012-2014 Jackson fell behind 1-0 against 47.5% of the batters he faced. Therefore, about half of the batters Jackson faces get put in a favorable position. When batters get up 1-0 on Jackson they hit .287/.395/.492, not inspiring numbers.
Continuing with this trend, 20% of batters who face a two-pitch count against Jackson continue to be ahead at 2-0. The triple slash line against Jackson after falling into this situation is understandably worse at .297/.511/.510. Again, the main problem is that Jackson sees himself in unfavorable situations frequently. For comparison, Wei-Yin Chen fell behind 1-0 to 35.4% of the batters he faced in 2015, and 2-0 to 13.9% of the batters he faced who had a two-pitch count. Taking this one step further and looking at an elite pitcher, in 2015 Clayton Kershaw fell behind 1-0 to 37.3% of batters he faced, and 2-0 to 12.3% of batters who faced a two-pitch count. You can see an obvious trend here: better pitchers stay ahead in the count.
There is another major problem with Jackson. Regardless of count, some of his pitches are still extremely hittable. Here is a chart looking at the outcomes for each of his pitches from 2012-2014:
Some might still argue that "luck" was involved in Edwin Jackson's poor 2012-2014 seasons - his xFIP over those three seasons was 3.90 - and he would be serviceable as a starter. Another way to look at a pitcher's success is "batted ball statistics." By analyzing the percentage of ground balls vs. line drives vs. fly balls hit against a pitcher we can gain insight into how successful he has been. As one would expect, line drives go for hits most often, followed by groundballs, then fly balls. The league average line drive percentage (LD%) for this time-frame was 21.0%. Edwin Jackson has a LD% of 20.6%, slightly better than league average. However, if we look at a year-by-year breakdown, we see that he has gotten worse every season. His LD% in 2012 was 16.8%, 20.3% in 2013, and 25.8% in 2014. In 2014 his LD% was the worst in the entire league. Essentially, one out of every four balls in play was hit for a line drive. Yikes.
As we move forward into the 2016 season, I find it hard to envision Jackson producing solid results as a starter. While I think he could find his way into the bullpen, his control issues are still a major problem. If he can't fix those, he will struggle in either a starter or a reliever role. The Marlins do have a wealth of young pitchers who might benefit from Jackson's presence, although it is impossible to know the impact of a veteran on a young staff. Regardless, I see Jackson competing for a back of the rotation spot, but eventually being delegated to low-leverage relief situations - perhaps as the long man.