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Scouting Pitchers: Edwin Jackson

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Statistics through 6/22/09

Let's look at one of the best stories in the American League. While Jackson was effective in 2008 for the AL Champion Rays (14-11, 4.42), he has taken a big step forward in 2009 for the division-leading Tigers. At 6-3, 2.24, he ranks among the league leaders in ERA (2.39) and WHIP (1.06). It has been the type of season people anticipated from Jackson from the time he was a hot prospect in the Dodgers chain.

Drafted in the sixth round by Los Angeles in 2001 out of a Georgia high school, Jackson (6-3, 210, Born 9/9/1983) needed just 275 innings before making his major league debut in 2003. He defeated Randy Johnson on his birthday, going six innings and allowing one run on four hits. In 2004, Jackson battled ineffectiveness in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (6-4, 5.86 in 19 starts) and forearm stiffness that limited his innings in the second half. He did not require surgery. Trade rumors swirled around him in 2004 and 2005, when he was demoted from the PCL (3-7, 8.62 in 11 starts) to Double-A, where he found some consistency (6-4, 3.48 in 11 starts). After an ineffective shot at the big league rotation down the stretch (2-2, 6.28 in six starts), LA traded him to Tampa Bay in January 2006 in the Danys Baez deal.

The Rays brought Jackson along slowly, moving him to the bullpen in 2006 and giving him just 109 innings between the AL and Triple-A. Back in the rotation in 2007, he struggled most of the year (5-15, 5.76) before contributing to the Rays' success in 2008. Jackson was dealt again in December 2008 to Detroit for Matt Joyce. He hasn't taken long to make a positive impression on his new city, as this humorous Answer Man interview with Jackson explores.

Edwin Jackson: (2009 G/F 0.72)

		Rating:  		%Thrown:
Fastball		70		65
Curveball	55		5
Slider		70		25
Changeup	50		5
Control		60
Delivery		50
Composure	65

Jackson has always had good stuff. He throws a high, riding fastball from 91-97 mph, and gains velocity as the game progresses. He threw 96-99 in the ninth inning of his 2-1 victory over the Angels on June 6, striking out Vladimir Guerrero with a 99 mph four-seamer. When Jackson has his good stuff, his fastball has armside run that bores in on right-handers and away from left-handers. When he doesn't, his fastball is a more ordinary 92-94 with little movement. Jackson doesn't throw a two-seamer, so he needs to be careful about keeping the ball down.

Jackson's primary off-speed pitch is an 83-89 mph slider that has good bite and that he controls well. Jackson can break it away from a right-handed hitter, but more often it dips straight down. His fastball and slider are effective because they are hard to center and he has learned to stay away from the middle of the plate with them.

Jackson has reduced his pitch efficiency (P/IP) dramatically this year not by using fewer pitches per hitter - his total of 3.86 is right at his career average - but by being more effective with these pitches. In a recent USA Today Sports Weekly cover story on the Tigers staff, pitching coach Rick Knapp said Jackson's mother has been preaching at him to "Throw strikes, keep the ball down, don't give anything away." Taking their advice, Jackson has lowered his pitches per inning from 18.4 (2007) to 16.7 (2008) to 15.1 (2009). This is like progressing from Scott Kazmir's to Mariano Rivera's efficiency.

In the past, veteran hitters would wear down Jackson by chipping away at him - going with the ball where it was pitched or waiting out walks. This year, Jackson has cruised through many innings by inducing weak pop-ups and fly balls. Hitters who try to muscle up or hack away at his high fastballs are in for a long night. Jackson has turned it around by refining his command, mixing his pitches more effectively, and benefiting from good defense.

Jackson has an 83-87 mph changeup and a 78-81 mph curveball he throws infrequently but effectively. As his command has improved, he has become more unpredictable in his pitch selection. He will surprise hitters with the change or curve in a game situation when he is behind in the count - and get away with it. As strange as it sounds, Detroit's defense in 2009 has been as good or better than Tampa Bay's last year, when sometimes they had Eric Hinske in the outfield. The Tigers' outfield of Josh Anderson, Curtis Granderson and Josh Anderson is very solid defensively. Together with the acquisition of catcher Gerald Laird and the return of Brandon Inge to third base, Tigers pitchers have had an added boost of confidence.

Jackson's motion has sparked comparisons to Dwight Gooden from Jackson's early days as an NL prospect. Like Gooden, he drops his forearm before coming through, and falls off the mound slightly. This gives him good snap on his pitches but can cost him command when his release point is off. Jackson repeats his motion well for his pitches, although he tips his changeup. He has improved at keeping his moving parts integrated toward the plate but can throw across his body as he tires. Jackson has always worked quickly, and he carries himself with a good deal of confidence and intensity on the mound.

While Jackson's success is legitimate, it comes with some caution flags. A flyball pitcher in the American League will have spells where he gives up a lot of runs. Jackson could work his change and curve more, and his motion can best be described as high-maintenance. Still, he has made a lot of improvement in his three years in the AL, and has the type of athleticism and star quality that Detroit needs.

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Radar Love - June fastballs:

98-101: Joel Zumaya in Pittsburgh on June 14.
91-98: Ubaldo Jimenez in Seattle on June 13.
94-96: C.J. Wilson against the Dodgers on June 14.
94-95: Jonathan Broxton in Texas on June 14.
91-96: Jon Lester in Philadelphia on June 12.
92-95: Matt Capps against the Tigers on June 14.
92-94: Francisco Rodriguez against the Yankees on June 13.
91-95: Fernando Nieve against the Yankees on June 13.
90-94: Jordan Zimmermann in Tampa Bay on June 13.
90-94: Derek Holland against the Dodgers on June 14.
90-93: Chad Billingsley in Texas on June 14.
90-92: Luke Hochevar in throwing a one-run, complete game victory in Cincinnati on June 12. Hochevar threw a remarkable 80 pitches.
89-92: Joe Blanton against the Red Sox on June 12.
89-92: Ross Ohlendorf against the Tigers on June 14.
85-89: Andy Sonnanstine against the Nationals on June 13.

Next week: NL Central: Homer Bailey and Jeff Samardzija

 

Article first appeared 6/23/09