Over the past four seasons, right-hander Edwin Jackson has thrown 812.2 innings for five different teams. He’s also been traded twice in the past three years and surprisingly settled for a one-year deal with Washington last winter. And once again, the 29-year-old starting pitcher enters free agency with the market reportedly “very cool” on him, according to The Kansas City Star’s Bob Dutton. Even the Brewers, who seek help atop their rotation, are reportedly not in pursuit.
The term journeyman sits awkwardly upon Jackson. On one hand, he has pitched for seven different teams in his career and has never secured a multi-year deal in free agency. Yet his +14.0 WAR in the past four seasons is better than Yovani Gallardo, Josh Beckett, Mark Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez, Hiroki Kuroda and Matt Garza during the same time. He’s proven durable and he’s compiled the numbers of a solid mid-rotation starter. He features a 93 mph to 94 mph fastball and a wipe-out slider that had a 26% swinging-strike rate last season. And best of all, he’s in the prime of his career.
So why is Jackson once again being pushed to the side?
The issue, perhaps, is consistency. While Jackson improved his K/BB ratio in each of the past four seasons by throwing more first-pitch strikes and working ahead in the count more regularly, he cannot consistently produce at a high level throughout an entire season. In each year since he first threw more than 100 innings — back when he was with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in 2007 — his first- and second-half splits have been dramatic.
|Year||First-Half ERA||Second-Half ERA|
Jackson teases teams across the league. One half of the season, he appears to put his numerous tools together and performs like a No. 2. In the other half, the wheels fall off and he struggles to maintain his spot in the starting rotation. Add the two halves together, and Jackson compiles solid overall seasons with regularity.
When committing large sums of money to a starting pitcher over multiple years, one craves predictability because it mitigates risk over the course of the contract. Teams want steady, consistent performers. And that’s something Jackson doesn’t do. Even though we can be relatively certain — based upon past seasons — that he’ll enjoy stretches of success, the timeliness of those stretches are hardly predictable.
This is not like Aramis Ramirez, who routinely struggles in April and May before mashing the baseball throughout the rest of the season. Instead, teams don’t know if Jackson will scuffle and dig a hole to start the season or if he’ll fall apart during a September pennant race. And it’s understandable a team would want him to demonstrate an ability to put an entire season together prior to committing $10 million to $15 million per year on a multi-year deal. Teams would much rather pay him $10 million to $15 million on a one-year deal and hope he finally puts it together for an entire season, but they’re not stuck with a second or a third year if he doesn’t.
Fortunately for Jackson, it appears this inflated free agent market has a great chance to finally net him a multi-year contract. Teams like the Brewers will remain wary of the right-hander, though, until he can show more consistency throughout a season. Expect teams to target more predictable pitchers this winter and consider Jackson as a contingency plan. In that way, this offseason should unfold exactly like prior ones until he signs with what could be his eighth team in nine years.