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February 2, 2012

Future Shock Blog

Edwin Jackson and the Fall of 2003

by Kevin Goldstein

The story of the day, in what has been a slow news week, is Edwin Jackson signing a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals. There are plenty of people out there doing the smart, prudent thing by talking about what this means for the team in 2012, and how a crowded fight for the final spot in the Nationals rotation will work out. Unfortunately, that's not how my mind works. When I think about Edwin Jackson, the first thing I think about is September 9, 2003.

While Jackson has proven to be a durable starter with the occasional flash of brilliance, there was a time when he was arguably the best pitching prospect in the game. A sixth-round pick in 2001, Jackson drew more interest from scouts as a raw, but tantalizing five-tool center fielder, but his athleticism provided equal intrigue on the mound. After pitching and hitting in the complex league during his pro debut, he moved to the mound full time in 2002 and his stock began to explode. He put up a 1.98 ERA in 19 starts for Low-A South Georgia, which prompted a two-level jump to Double-A in 2003, where he struck out 157 over 148 1/3 innings as a teenager.

While the Dodgers were a winning team in September of 2003, they were still well behind a Giants team that would go to win 100 games. Thus, they rewarded some prospects with September looks, including Jackson, who made his debut in Arizona pitching against Randy Johnson, who was having one of his few bad years. It was Jackson's 20th birthday, and he was spectacular, allowing one run on a sacrifice fly over six innings while giving up four hits and striking out four. He was as good as advertised, and looked like a sure-fire superstar, but for whatever reason, the development just stopped from there.

To watch Edwin Jackson more than eight years after that eye-opening debut, he's still almost the exact same pitcher. He still parks his fastball at 94-96 mph while touching 99, but the slider is still a tease, as he mixes in true wipeout versions with ones that just sweep across the plate, while he's never gotten much velocity separation from his average changeup. He's lowered his walk rate at a slow but steady pace, yet is still an inefficient pitcher who averaged just under 100 pitches per six innings in 2011. He's hardly bad, he's just frustrating because he's not better. There's no obvious reason for his stagnation. We can talk about the age ranges for when players peak, but nothing is absolute, and some hit their apex early, and some late. Still, all I can think about right now is watching that 20-year-old in September of 2003 and thinking I was witnessing something magical.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Edwin Jackson

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Domenik Hixon

Sarge, didn't the Dodgers muck about with E-Jax's mechanics following the 2003 season? If I recall correctly, there was a school of thought that such changes were the reason he took a step back at the time.

Feb 02, 2012 15:06 PM
rating: 2

With so many of the Nationals pitchers on innings limits due to being young and/or injured, wouldn't it make some sense for the Nationals to go to a six man rotation while all are still healthy?

Feb 02, 2012 15:11 PM
rating: 2

I love this idea. Why not think "outside the box" on this team? What have they got to lose?

Feb 03, 2012 07:26 AM
rating: 0

You don't sign Jackson for $10m if you really believe you have nothing to lose. Sure, the lineup is still weak but the pitching gets better seemingly by the day.

It will interesting to see the PECOTA projections when they come out next week. This is a 2011 80 win team that is on the improve and this (and the Lidge) signing says - "we think we can win now".

Feb 03, 2012 09:36 AM
rating: -1
Dan W.

The interesting question to me is how much the "win-now" signings of Jackson and Lidge, and the trade of prospects for Gio, speeds up Harper's timetable. You've got Jackson on a one-year deal; that's not really compatible with keeping Harper down in AAA for service-clock reasons until June. (If they think he needs more minor league at-bats, that's another story, but it doesn't sound like Davey thinks so.)

Feb 03, 2012 10:34 AM
rating: 1

The other reason to keep Harper in AA (which he hasn't mastered yet) is that he likely wouldn't be a huge upgrade to the MLB club yet.

Feb 06, 2012 05:08 AM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

Would Jackson be the Corey Patterson of pitching? In terms of getting by on talent without ever learning anything?

Feb 02, 2012 16:05 PM
rating: 0

Not a horrible comp, but Patterson actually got significantly worse. In '03 before he got injured he was having a great season.

Jackson while frustrating has still showed marginal improvement the past 5 years.

Feb 03, 2012 04:27 AM
rating: 0

Perhaps he was brought in to teach Strasburg and Zimmerman? /sarc off

Feb 02, 2012 16:29 PM
rating: 1

And 2013 will likely bring Jackson to yet another new team. Its incredible how many teams he's been on at such a young age.

Feb 02, 2012 16:38 PM
rating: 1
Richard Bergstrom

People are upset that he keeps taking their parking spots.

Feb 02, 2012 23:25 PM
rating: 1

He must be the first player to play for seven different teams by age 28. Octavio Dotel, Mike Morgan, Ron Villone, and Matt Stairs share the record for having played for 12 different teams.

Feb 03, 2012 03:18 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Bradford Doolittle
BP staff

And eight different organizations -- he was traded twice in one day last year.

KG mentions his slider and when Jackson was with the White Sox, that really seemed to be the bane of his existence. In his second start last year, he struck out 13 against the Rays. I recall virtually all of those Ks being on swings against his slider. It was unhittable.

Other days, the thing would just spin up there and get crushed. I remember a few rough games when afterwards, Jackson would grouse about not being able to get a feel for his slider. If he ever gets consistent with that pitch, look out. Alas, it seems like he would have figured it out by now if it was ever going to happen.

One thing is for certain: Jackson's travels can't be attributed to a sour personality. He's one of the more effusive and affable ballplayers I've been around. He's multilingual and is one of the few players that seems as popular with the Latino players as with the Americans.

Feb 03, 2012 08:46 AM

I really liked him as a Cardinals and was holding out some vague hope that he'd get some of those Pujols dollars that got suddenly freed up. Maybe in 2013!

Feb 03, 2012 09:37 AM
rating: 0

So why can't he seem to last on teams for more than one year? He's a solid starter. I was surprised to see that he only got a one year deal. Was it his preference to sign a short-term deal or are teams just not sold on his consistency? The past four years his ERA's have been:

2008 - 4.42
2009 - 3.62
2010 - 4.47
2011 - 3.79

And he's only 28.

Feb 03, 2012 12:42 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Ah, ERA, I remember that stat.

2009 - 214
2010 - 209.1
2011 - 199.2

2009 - 1.262
2010 - 1.395
2011 - 1.437

2009 - 1.9
2010 - 2.3
2011 - 1.5

And he should be entering his peak seasons but he seems to have already peaked...

Feb 03, 2012 13:37 PM
rating: -1
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