BY ROB SHAW
Edwin Jackson is young, durable, and has been a winner with 10-plus wins in each of the last four seasons. The solid track record begs the question why did so many teams pass on him.
The 28-year-old hurler is now on his seventh Major League team and he hasn’t played for losers either. He went 5-2 down the stretch for the Cardinals last season, playing a role in the team’s World Series Championship.
One of the hardest throwing hurlers in baseball, Jackson has improved his control over the years. His greatest weakness recently is that he is just too hittable. Even in his successful run with the Cardinals the opposition hit .300 against him. The good news is that he keeps the ball in the yards, but for fantasy managers looking for a low WHIP, Jackson is not a solution.
The move to Washington means he’ll now don the jersey for his sixth team over the last four years. However, Bloomberg Sports likes his fantasy value. The larger ballpark and National League setting should translate to 170 strikeouts, double-digit wins, and a 4.21 ERA.
Jackson is a fine low-risk, high ceiling option in the later rounds of fantasy drafts. After all, it was just a few years back that he threw a no-hitter while pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Let’s see if he can finally sustain such dominance over a full season.
Once one of the hurlers in the most demand in the Major Leagues, Erik Bedard hopes to build on his improvement from last season while joining the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Bedard was a disaster in Seattle. Because of injuries, he never lived up to the hype and while the Mariners traded away top prospect Adam Jones to the Orioles for him, they ended up letting him go for very little in return last season to the Red Sox.
The good news is that Bedard showed that even after all of the injury-ravaged seasons, he still has some potential right now. He offered fine control last season and fanned a batter per inning throughout the year.
A move to Pittsburgh should lead to some good results for Bedard’s fantasy managers. Pittsburgh’s ballpark plays neutral and he will no longer have to deal with designated hitters in the majority of his starts. Most importantly, he has sustained his health, which is the key to his performance.
BloombergSports.com projects a solid 3.74 ERA and 1 .30 WHIP from the veteran hurler this season, and with some luck he could reach double-digit wins for the first time in five years.
The loss of CJ Wilson could be crushing to the Texas Rangers. Just a year removed from a second World Series, the Rangers lost their ace for a second time. First it was Cliff Lee who bolted to rejoin the Phillies. Now it’s Wilson, and while he may not be as dominant as Lee, the fact that he joins the rival LA Angels of Anaheim makes matters worse.
The Rangers were desperate to respond and without many proven stars on the market they had to compete with teams including the Toronto Blue Jays to land Yu Darvish, an ace from Japan. With an enormous bid, the Rangers land the hard-throwing hurler who will enjoy the loftiest expectations by a free agent to join the Rangers perhaps since Alex Rodriguez signed his now infamous $252 million deal.
As far as realistic projections for Darvish, BloombergSports.com offers a 13-8 record, 185 strikeouts, and a 3.63 ERA for the hard-throwing hurler. That makes him the 16th best starting pitcher, and a top-50 fantasy talent.
Despite the lofty projections, there is still a great deal of risk for fantasy managers. After all, Darvish is new to America and will have to adapt culturally to Major League Baseball, plus he calls home to one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league. He will not get away with many mistakes and the media will be hounding him all season long.
For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.
By R.J. Anderson //
Russell Branyan has hit nearly 70 home runs over the last three seasons despite inconsistent and occasionally sparse playing time (just over 1,000 plate appearances). That’s a home run every 16 or so plate appearances, an average on par with Barry Bonds’ career rate (one every 16.5 plate appearances). There’s a chance Branyan can live up to (or exceed) that pace should he stay healthy this season, as he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The D-Backs play in Chase Field, formerly known as Bank One Ballpark, which is unfathomably kind to left-handed hitters. StatCorner provides a park factor for either handed batter at each ballpark in the majors and has the home run factor for lefties at The BOB at 114 -which is to say lefties see their homer tallies increase by 14 percent within this park relative to league average. Branyan has never been one to lead the league in cheapies, but the friendly confines should assist by turning some outs or doubles into round trippers.
Since Branyan figures to get the lion’s share of plate appearances, he also figures to play quite a bit at first base. This could be the snake in the bushes because Branyan does not have a strong health record. He’s missed at least 45 days due to various injuries over the last three seasons, including roughly the final month of the 2010 season. He turned 35 during December and there’s no reason to believe he suffers from the Benjamin Button abnormality of reverse aging. Put simply, Branyan is all but guaranteed to miss time with a back or trunk injury, the only question is how much that will affect his production.
If you do select Branyan in a deeper league, perhaps look to handcuff him with the player most likely to replace him during his downtime (at this moment, Brandon Allen, although his name could surface in trade talk). Otherwise, make sure Branyan is your fallback option rather than the primary. He’s going to mash when he’s healthy, but that could be less often than everyone involved would hope.
By Tommy Rancel //
The Arizona Diamondbacks have completely revamped their rotation in the last calendar year. With Dan Haren, Brandon Webb, and Edwin Jackson now pitching for new teams, the D-Backs have added Joe Saunders, Ian Kennedy, Dan Hudson, and recently Armando Galarraga. The club even brought back reliever Aaron Heilman to compete for a rotation spot. In all fairness, the list reads as a casting call for your average fourth or fifth starter; however Dan Hudson had a real chance to stand out in the snakes’ rotation.
When Arizona acquired Hudson for Jackson last year, we quickly boarded the Hudson-hype train, urging owners to pick him up as a boost for playoff rotations. He did not disappoint – going 7-1 with a minuscule 1.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Diamondbacks. Overall, he went 8-2 with 2.45 ERA in 95 innings last year between Chicago and Arizona. After the trade to the National League, Hudson was literally spot-on. He struck out 70 batters in 79 innings while allowing just 16 walks. He induced a swing and a miss more than 12% of the time and allowed less than one baserunner per inning.
For all the good Hudson produced, there are some signs that he may regress from the absolute beast mode he displayed at the end of 2010. Though his strikeout rate may continue to be slightly above the league average, his walk rate is likely to regress from elite status to simply very good.
As a flyball pitcher, we were concerned about home runs being an issue at Chase Field; however, Hudson did a good job of limiting the big fly in his brief introduction to the stadium. Meanwhile, his home run-to-flyball ratio was below the league average which means he’ll likely allow more home runs in a larger sample size. In addition to the home runs, Hudson’s batting average on balls in play (.216) was well below the league average of around .300 and is also likely to see some regression.
Despite his strong showing at the end of the season, nobody expects Hudson to be a sub-2.00 ERA pitcher over the course of 30-plus starts. Going forward his ERA will probably be close to 3.50 than it will be 2.00. On the other hand, over the course of full-season that is still very valuable.
Though he may allow more hits and home runs, Hudson’s peripheral stats are strong enough to hold up as a valuable SP3 or possibly an SP2 in some deeper leagues. In even better news, Hudson goes into the 2011 season without much hype or fanfare meaning you could possibly get that value for the cost of an SP4 or SP5 in most standard mixed leagues.
By R.J. Anderson //
In 2006, the Pittsburgh Pirates had five pitchers of age 24 or younger combine to account for three-quarters of their season starts. Only one of those pitchers remains a Bucco. Oliver Perez was the first to go, then Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell hit the bricks. Now, Zach Duke is a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, leaving Paul Maholm as the sole survivor.
The Pirates chose to designated Duke for assignment last week rather than hold off and (eventually) non-tender him. The move simply paved the way for Duke to leave the team. The only added benefit was the potential to recoup something in exchange for the rights to Duke. Someone did bite, and as a result the Pirates will receive a player to be named later, which reports peg as a marginal prospect.
The 2009 season represents the apex of Duke’s fantasy value. He tossed more than 200 innings of 4.06 ERA ball and won double-digit games. In typical Pirates fashion, the breakout’s sequel was a setback. Duke still made 29 starts, but only lasted 159 innings – a little over five innings per start, on average. That’s not a good ratio for someone who had averaged more than six innings per start throughout his career, including a career-best 6.7 innings a start in 2009.
The drop in innings was not because of durability or stamina issues, but rather ineffective pitching. His 5.72 ERA was an eyesore. Digging deeper, Duke had nine starts last season where he allowed more than four runs and he allowed more than six runs in six of those starts. He also had seven starts where he allowed multiple home runs and two where he allowed three homers.
Nevertheless, Duke is exactly the kind of pitcher Arizona General Manager Kevin Towers targeted during his time in San Diego. A lefty, Duke throws a mid-to-high-80s fastball with sink on it (resulting in a career groundball rate just a tick below 49%). His changeup sits in the low-80s and he relies heavily on two kinds of breaking balls; a low-70s curve and a high-70s/low-80s slider. The pitches combined for a decent whiff rate the last two seasons, but nothing special.
Pittsburgh plays its games within the friendly dimensions of PNC Park – a stadium with a reputation for limiting right-handed power; which in turn enhanced Duke’s ability to pitch. Arizona’s Chase Field is geared towards hitters, particularly lefties. Attempting to find similar cases of pitchers who went from Pittsburgh to Arizona (or vice versa) and quantify the trend is impossible. The Diamondbacks are too young to have many common links throughout the league, but even they had standards above the Pirates’ rejects.
Expect Duke’s hit rate (because pitchers who give up hits on 34.7% of their balls in play simply don’t last in the major leagues) and his home run rate (because, again, pitchers who give up homers on nearly 14% of their flyballs never make it this far) to decline. From there, his upside is likely that of a league-average pitcher, with the chance to look slightly better thanks to pitching his road games in some extremely friendly environments. He could be serviceable for the DBacks. But he’s unrosterable in all but the deepest fantasy leagues.
For more on Zach Duke and other change of scenary pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
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By Eriq Gardner //
By Tommy Rancel //
Before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Arizona Diamondbacks made a series of moves geared toward their future. One move in particular not only has potential for future reward, but is bringing back some results right now.
In terms of real-life analysis, the thought process behind the Edwin Jackson for Dan Hudson trade was to give up a year and a half of Jackson for six seasons of Hudson. Jackson is a talented pitcher, but he’s on his fifth major league team before the age of 27. He’s a nice piece at the back end of the rotation, but will make more than $8 million next season. Hudson may not have the raw ability that Jackson does, but he will earn around the league minimum for the next few seasons, likely for similar production.
After spending the 2008 season at the rookie level of the minor leagues, Hudson blew through all levels of the White Sox system in 2009 – earning a call-up to he majors after starting the year in low-A ball. He began 2010 at Triple-A, where he continued to post fantastic numbers – especially in the strikeout category. In 93.1 innings, he struck out 108 batters while walking just 31.
Hudson would make three unimpressive starts for the White Sox big club this season before the trade to Arizona. Again, while the move was made with the future in mind, Hudson has provided the Diamondbacks with favorable results in the present.
After four turns through the Arizona rotation, the 23-year-old right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.12 ERA. Hudson has struck out an impressive 27 batters in 29.1 innings with the D-Backs, while handing out just four walks.
One concern about Hudson, a flyball pitcher, moving to Arizona is home runs allowed. Chase Field is among the league’s friendliest home run parks. Since moving out west, Hudson has allowed four home runs (1.21 HR/9), and other Arizona pitchers in larger sample sizes have shows home run-heavy tendencies, so it is something that needs to be monitored long-term.
His current swinging strike percentage of 11% shows that his stuff thus far has been good enough to miss the bats of major league hitters. This is good news for his above-average strikeout rate, indicating that it’s more likely to be sustainable. Although he might be prone to the long ball, Hudson has kept the opposition off base in other ways, limiting the damage of the big fly.
Hudson is currently available on the waiver wire in most leagues. If you have the opening, the risk of claiming him is well worth the potential reward of adding an above-average starter as you head toward your fantasy playoffs – especially in deeper leagues.
For more on Daniel Hudson and other late season pick-ups, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
With Cliff Lee off the market, the Arizona Diamondbacks held one of the few aces (Dan Haren) left on the market. Instead of getting a king’s ransom in return, they settled for a ten (Joe Saunders), a five (Rafael Rodriguez), and a pair of wild cards (Patrick Corbin and a player to be named later). The Dan Haren trade is a blow to NL-only owners; however, to members of AL-only leagues…welcome to Christmas in July.
On the surface, Haren doesn’t look like a “significant” upgrade over Saunders. Both pitchers have sub-.500 win-loss records and near-matching ERAs around 4.60. That’s where the similarities end.
Unlike Saunders, Haren is actually better than his ERA suggests; much better. Despite the high ERA, Haren is striking out a batter per inning. His smooth 9.00 K/9 rate is a career high. Also unlike Saunders, Haren does not walk many batters. He’s handed out just 29 walks in 141 innings (1.85 BB/9), and owns a career walk rate below 2.0. According to those metrics, Haren has been a top-five pitcher in the NL. Where he has struggled in 2010 is home runs allowed, batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and strand rate.
It’s true that Haren deserves partial blame for his rather high home run rate. He has allowed nearly as many home runs (23) as walks (29). His home run per nine rate (HR/9) of 1.47 is a career worst and nearly half a homer higher than his career 1.07 rate. Outside of bad luck, Haren’s (former) home ball park is not helping matters either.
According to ESPN’s park factors, the 29-year-old is moving from a home ball park that ranks among the most generous in home runs per game to one that ranks near the bottom (22nd). Digging even deeper into park factors, Statcorner.com tells us Chase Field is extremely friendly to left-handed batters in terms of the long ball.
Looking at Haren’s splits for 2010, he is allowing more home runs to lefties (1.81 HR/9) than righties (1.22 HR/9). His home run rate at home (1.57 HR/9) is also higher his road rate (1.35). In fact, 17.1% of flyballs hit against Haren in Chase Field clear the wall. That number drops to 11.2% on the road. For his career, his HR/FB rate is 11.1%. It is not a guaranteed fix for the gopherball problems that have plagued Haren, but a move to Angels Stadium certainly won’t hurt.
In addition to the home run rate, Haren has been ridiculously unlucky on balls in play. His current BABIP of .350 is nearly 50 points higher than his career .304 level. This is odd given the rates in types of balls put in play against him (line drives, flyballs, groundballs) have not drastically changed.
His line drive rate (LD%) of 20.3% is nearly identical to his 20.0% career number. Since line drives are the type of batted ball most likely to fall for hits, it is strange that Haren’s BABIP has climbed so high. If Haren’s current BABIP regresses toward career levels, expect a significant drop in ERA.
Meanwhile, Haren’s strand rate has fallen to 70.9% from 2009’s 77% and his career 73.2%. Pitchers will often see more of the runners they put on base score as a result of a shaky bullpen. Arizona’s pen owns a stratospheric 6.50 ERA, the worst mark in the majors and a full run and a half higher than the next worst team. Better bullpen support could help Haren’s strand rate, and also his wins total, with fewer saves likely to be blown once he leaves the game (although the Angels rank a poor 25th in MLB themselves with a 4.50 bullpen ERA).
Normally, when a pitcher moves from the NL to AL, we worry about league adjustment. Haren made 102 starts for the Oakland Athletics. In those three years he went 43-34 with a 3.64 ERA. He also struck out 531 batters while walking just 153 in more than 600 innings of work.
If you’re in a mixed league, hold the line for all the reasons above. In NL-only leagues, I’m sorry. On the other hand, in a competitive AL-only format, you might as well break your free agent budget.
by Eno Sarris //
It didn’t quite start with a
crash in the library. But Conor Jackson has so far had a career that
resembles the now-defunct Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
It all started
so well when he got his first regular playing time in 2006, racking up a .291/.368/.441 line that suggested further upside.
He’d been ranked as high as #17 on Baseball America’s top 100 list and had
shown a .200 ISO in the minor leagues (isolated power, or slugging
percentage minus batting average), so it seemed possible that Jackson
was going to develop into an above-average first baseman despite his
underpowered debut (.151 ISO). At the very least, his nice walk rate (9.7%) could provide good value to his team.
The ride meandered a bit when he followed that up with a .284/.368/.467 season that made fans
wonder if there wasn’t a lot of projectability there. Though he had hit 15 home runs in both seasons,
there was still some hope that he could improve that number in the
future, especially after a solid .183 ISO in his sophomore season.
The 2008 season took most of the shine off Jackson’s future, as his
batting line looked very familiar (.300/.376/.446) and his ISO took a
step back (.146). First base, of all positions, is not a great place to
stick an underpowered stick, as the average batting-title qualifying
first baseman put up a .287/.378/.515 batting line in 2009. But
Jackson still offered value with his batting average, and by playing in
the outfield he added a little quirk and a little spice for people in
deep, five-outfielder leagues.
But last season, things turned for the worse. Jackson caught valley fever, a fungal
affliction seen mostly in the southwest. To quote the Wikipedia entry
on the subject:
The spores, known as arthroconidia,
are swept into the air by disruption of the soil, such as during
construction, farming, dancing at desert raves, or an earthquake.
I hope he caught it at a rave, so that some fun came from the situation. The rare disease has mild, flu-like
symptoms, but the fatigue associated with it basically cost Jackson the
year. He amassed just 110 plate appearances in the majors, and a dismal
.182/.264/.253 batting line. It might be safe to call 2009 a bedeviled section of the wild ride for Jackson.
Will there be a return to
normalcy for Jackson? Though claiming to be healthy, he has struggled
to a .245/.331/.343 line. The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider
graph shows just how bad such a line is, when stacked up against first
basemen. Jackson is available in 97% of Yahoo leagues and 89.7% of ESPN
leagues. With his mild power even when he was going well, he was easy
to jettison and easier to ignore.
maybe there are still
fine times coming. Jackson has picked it up in June (.289/.357/.421)
and there are other encouraging signs. He never stopped walking
throughout his troubles (11.4% this year) and his contact rate is right
(87.3% this year, 87.6% career). Now he’s finally hitting the ball with
some authority (27.5% line drive rate).
He probably won’t ever have the power of the average starting first
baseman, he just doesn’t hit the ball in the air enough (34.4% this
year, 40.3% career). But if Jackson can continue to spray line drives
and show his trademark excellent eye at the plate, he can
help in deeper leagues – especially in leagues that count OBP and have five outfielders. Maybe Kevin
Smith was right – maybe everyone does want Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
by Eno Sarris
Sometimes a player just can’t get any respect, despite consistent excellence. That might be the case with Arizona ace Dan Haren.
The good news is that over the last three years, he’s posted ERAs of 3.33 or lower, WHIPs of
1.21 or lower, microscopic walk rates of 1.8 per nine innings or lower, and a strikeout rate above 8 K/9 IP. FanGraphs’ Expected Fielding Independent Pitching stat (xFIP), which runs along a similar scale to ERA and isolates factors a pitcher can best control such as home run rate, walk rate and strikeout rate and adjusts for park effects, defense and other factors, shows Haren ranking 4th in MLB in 2009 (3.08) and 4th in 2008 (3.21). Consistency is part of Haren’s oeuvre.
Take a look at Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Baseball Kit and several other numbers jump out at you. Haren was better than 75% of starting pitchers in strikeouts, and also sported an elite WHIP. Toiling for the 70-92 Diamondbacks kept Haren from amassing an impressive number of wins (he settled for a still solid 14), but there’s room for hope there as well. The D-Backs’ 720 runs scored last year were average for the National League (8th out of 16) and with a few steps forward from youngsters Justin Upton and Stephen Drew, the team could add to that total – especially in a hitter-friendly park. In the end, though, those factors don’t matter all that much. If Haren nets another season with the 16th-ranked ERA, first-ranked WHIP, and sixth-ranked strikeout total in baseball, you’ll be happy.
Still, much has been made about Haren’s first half vs. second half splits; the Bloomberg Tool again shows us graphically what the naysayers are saying. You can see that Haren’s ERA rose as the season wore on in 2009. This is not a new development. Take a look at his career pre- and post-All Star splits: In 651 pre-All Star innings, Haren has a 3.08 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a 7.45
K/9. In 575 post-All Star innings, he has 4.21 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and a
7.76 K/9. Those numbers include a mediocre career 4.58 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in August.
But that doesn’t mean you should draft Haren and trade him at the All Star break, or worse, pass on him entirely. The pre- and post-All-Star K rates were an early clue. But if you take ERA and WHIP out of the story and focus on underlying statistics, Haren is not really any different after the break, or even in his supposedly worst month of August.
To strip luck and other factors out of the equation, let’s return to Fielding Independent Pitching, the brainchild of baseball researcher Tom Tango. The expected version of FIP, xFIP, normalizes for home run rates given a pitcher’s ballpark and league situation. Listed on FanGraphs.com are Haren’s month-by-month xFIPs for his career: 3.82, 3.72, 3.73, 3.54, 3.37, 3.64. That’s right, over his career, Haren actually has his lowest monthly xFIP in August.
So why the ugly ‘regular’ stats? Since xFIP normalizes home run rate to a pitcher’s career average, it removes the effect of Haren’s biggest August problem – his 1.58 home runs per nine innings. His career home run rate is 1.03 home runs per 9 IP. You might argue that Haren tires late in the season and is more prone to the big fly, but there’s a fly in that ointment. Haren’s career home runs per 9 IP in September and October? 1.01. It simply doesn’t make any sense to say that Haren is tired in August but fine in September. For the more statistically inclined, there’s even a numbers-based argument against the importance of season splits like Haren’s here. Basically, they don’t exist.
But even those that don’t want to read about “r” values and other advanced statistical measures can see that it doesn’t make much sense to worry about one month. That’s doubly true when the underlying numbers don’t support the case for that one month being fundamentally worse than others.
Bloomberg Sports rates Haren as an elite starting pitcher, giving him a B-Rank of 29. That’s 5th among all starting pitchers, trailing only Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke. Draft Haren with confidence, and don’t trade him unless you get a top-tier offer. Not even at the All Star break.
For more on why Dan Haren is good, and the horde of other starting pitchers that aren’t as good, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.
In 2007, Jackson suffered through a seemingly miserable season, posting a 5-15 record and 5.76 ERA, the kind of stats that will torpedo a fantasy season. Turns out Jackson was the victim of bad luck and especially bad defense that year. Pitching in front of noted defensive sieves such as Delmon Young and Brendan Harris, Jackson yielded a stratospheric batting average on plays in play of .351. His xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that runs along a similar scale to ERA, but strips out the impact of defense, park effects and other factors outside a pitcher’s control) was nearly a run lower than his ERA, at 4.95. This was a roughly league average pitcher thrust into the worst situation.
In 2008, Jackson appeared to take a huge step forward. The big right-hander upped his record to 14-11, with a 4.42 ERA, delighting fantasy owners who gambled a late-round pick on him. But a closer look revealed that he hadn’t changed at all. Jackson owed most of the improvement in his superficial stats to a vast improvement in the Rays’ defense. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, a stat which tracks fielders’ ability to make plays in and around their assigned positions, the Rays moved from dead last in baseball in 2007 with a mark of -57.7 to first in 2008, at 74.2. Put another way: Every 10 positive UZR points add up to roughly one more win in the standings for a given team.
So Tampa Bay’s defense went from costing the team nearly six wins in 2007 to adding more than seven wins to the ledger in 2008. That’s a gigantic, 13-win improvement – one of the biggest year-to-year changes in MLB history – before any Rays pitcher made a pitch or any Rays batter took a swing. Indeed, Jackson’s xFIP actually rose from 4.95 in 2007 to 5.03 in 2008, as some of Jackson’s peripheral stats, including his strikeout rate, got worse. It seems impossible to believe that a pitcher could go from 5-15 to 14-11 and actually prove slightly less valuable to his team on a per-inning basis – but Jackson turned the trick.
After the ’08 season, Rays management saw a chance to trade a pitcher whose perceived value likely outshone his actual value, and that’s exactly what the team did – shipping Jackson to Detroit for promising outfielder Matt Joyce.
At first glance, Jackson’s debut season in Motown
could be seen as a major breakout: His ERA dropped nearly another full run to 3.62 (7th in the American League), his strikeout-to-walk ratio jumped over the key 2:1 mark, and Jackson gave the Tigers a career-high 214 innings pitched (also 7th in the AL). His xFIP slid to 4.39. Combine his increased innings total with his improved performance, and FanGraphs estimates that Jackson’s season was worth 3.5 Wins Above Replacement — or three-and-a-half more wins than a fringe major league pitcher — for Detroit.
Even in a very good season, Jackson still showed his share of flaws. First, Jackson’s season reveals a massive chasm between his first and second
half numbers. In the first half he was one of the American League’s
top pitchers, walking just 35 batters in 121.2 IP and compiling a 2.52 ERA. The
second half wasn’t as kind, as Jackson allowed more hits, runs, and
home runs while walking the same number of batters in nearly 30 fewer
innings. His full season marked of 1.14 homers allowed per nine innings was higher than average among qualified starters, a puzzling and troubling sign at Comerica Park, which suppressed homers by 2.6% compared to league average in 2009, and rates as a pitcher-friendly park compared to other MLB stadiums.
This off-season, Jackson was involved in another trade, this one sending him to Arizona. So, which Edwin Jackson should we expect to see in 2010?
Here are some factors to consider when drafting Jackson:
1. He’s moving to Chase Field.
While moving out of the American League is generally a good thing for a pitcher due to lower run-scoring totals in the NL,
moving into one of baseball’s best hitters parks is not. Chase
Field consistently ranks among the leaders in run factor – it boosted offenses by 19.3% in 2009 and 13.5% in 2008. A mistake
pitch that may found a glove in the outfield of Comerica Park last
season may not have the same fate at Chase.
2. The defense playing behind him is good, though maybe not as good. Detroit had one of the league’s top defensive units playing behind
Jackson last season, ranking fifth in team UZR at 43.6; Tigers starters Adam Everett, Placido Polanco, Brandon Inge,
and Curtis Granderson all ranked among the best defenders at their respective
positions. As was the case with Tampa Bay in 2008, the stellar defense
gobbled up many of the mistakes Jackson may have made and helped to lower his
batting average on balls in play, which in turn saved runs and lowered his ERA. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, ranked a solid 9th in team UZR in 2009, though just 23rd in 2008, while not making many changes to their everyday lineup.
3. The offense supporting him isn’t very good. Yes, Mark Reynolds is a big time power threat (44 homers in 2009), Justin Upton is a star
in the making, and Adam LaRoche’s bat should help stabilize the first
base position. Beyond those three, the DBacks trot out a group of 20-something hitters high on potential and low on results (to date). According to our Competitive Factors tool (see image below) the Diamondbacks ranked 19th
in batting in 2009, scoring just 720 runs despite playing in a great park for hitters. Jackson isn’t a good enough
pitcher to win many games by himself, like Zack Greinke had to do last
season playing for the hapless Royals. Jackson’s going to need help, and unless Chris Young and Stephen
Drew can finally live up to their outstanding potential, Jackson will
struggle to receive enough run support to match his win totals from the
previous two seasons.
4. The NL West. This factor could work out in Jackson’s favor. Thanks to an unbalanced schedule,
Jackson will get to face the Padres and Giants a lot. Those two
teams’ offenses finished 29th and 30th in our Competitive Factor batting rankings last
season, due to both their pitcher-friendly ballparks and talent-deficient lineups. Facing those offenses adds some instant value to a pitcher’s
worth, as will traveling to Petco Park and AT&T Park, as well as Dodger Stadium (Coors Field will be the one road park in the NL West that could significantly hurt Jackson’s performance).
Jackson currently owns a B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking of all players) of 55 among starting pitchers. This
number looks high to me, artificially inflated by one stellar
half of baseball. You’re more likely to find better value in someone
like Carlos Zambrano, who is ranked only a few places behind Jackson. Choose wisely, my friends.
For more information on Edwin Jackson and hundreds of other
players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy
league, check out Bloomberg
Sports’ fantasy kits.