One of the most common phrases uttered in respect to Edwin Jackson is that it feels like he has been around forever. He broke in with the Dodgers in 2003 at age 19, but his first full season wasn't until 2007 with the Rays, so there aren't as many miles on the wing as one might first assume. Jackson has garnered a reputation as being somewhat of a wild-card year to year, mostly due to his early struggles with walks and wildly fluctuating ERAs. But we can only tell so much from ERA, the fact is, youthful inefficiency and inconsistency have actually given way to relative stability for Jackson. I'll let the peripherals tell the story.
The Journeyman Settles Down
Fangraphs has Jackson's ground ball rate settled between 43-50% over the last three years, and his BB/9 has topped three only once in the last four seasons (in 2010). The real consistency has been in the his fielding independent pitching (read like ERA, with 4 being about league average), and his expected fielding independent pitching (which is luck, park and league adjusted). The FIP has nestled in between 3.55 and 3.86 over the past three seasons, but Jackson's xFIP has been even more stable, between 3.71 and 3.79. The fielding independent numbers suggest he was let down by his defense to varying degrees, in both 2010 and 2012. As for next year, Jackson's age 30 season, Bill James predicts an ERA just a tic under four, with the K/9 at about 7, and a BB/9 of 2.85. In short, an above average innings eater, as advertised. Think Edinson Volquez with better control. In fact, the raw stuff is quite comparable with that of Volquez.
Jackson also has demonstrable value outside of advanced statistics. He has made at least 31 starts for six straight seasons, which is likely the prime reason the Padres are serious about signing him. Keep in mind that Jackson has pitched with four different teams in the last three years, giving his catchers scant time to get to know the nuances of the righty's repertoire. All the while, Jackson has been professional about all the shuffling, leaving reporters without nasty sound bites about the clubs that have passed him along.
From a return on investment standpoint, he is a fairly low cost option with a high floor. Rumors have it that he will be looking at 3-4 years, and an average annual value of about $12MM. His stuff is definitely still sharp, and Jackson is young enough that his best season could still be on the horizon. Plus, the benefit of a consistent environment, especially with a great pitching coach like Darren Balsley, is that everyone gets to know you well, and can help keep you where you need to be, in terms of mechanics and mental approach. But even if Jackson just stays the course, he'll be giving a team a decent chance to win every fifth day.
Clearly I am positive that Jackson will be worth a deal within the range described above, however, it is clear that the market for him is strong. The Padres are considered a strong player, but it has come to light that the Rangers, with what was their Josh Hamilton stockpile to draw from, are also looking into signing him. Personally, if the Padres have their pick between Jackson and Rick Porcello (meaning they know they could land either), I think they will take Porcello. That is the right choice, by my estimation and it saves a bit of dough for resigning Chase Headley.
*You can read about Trade Candidate, Ubaldo Jimenez, here on my blog, NationalWest.