In Edwin Jackson’s most recent start on Saturday afternoon, the much-maligned starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs showed off exactly why he was given a four-year, $52 million contract prior to last season as he struck out 11 while walking just one in seven shutout innings.
Jackson won’t replicate this stat line every time out, and may not have a start as strong as this one for the rest of the season, but over his last three outings, he has shown the ability to be a quality mid-rotation starter who can shut down an offense on any given day. In the month of May, Jackson has made three starts in which he has thrown 20 innings with 23 strikeouts against just three walks, resulting in an ERA of 1.80 and a 0.95 WHIP.
Contrast the month of May with April, when Jackson notched 26 strikeouts and 17 walks in 34 innings pitched, and the reason for his success this month is clear: Jackson has gone from a pedestrian K/BB ratio of 1.53 to an elite 7.67.
While his recent stretch dominance will not continue for the rest of the season, it is encouraging to both fans and to Jackson himself that the results can be so successful when he throws strikes and commands two plus-pitches.
In his most recent start, Jackson induced his highest swinging strike rate of the year at 15.7 percent by relying mostly on locating his fastball (66.1 percent) in the zone and putting hitters away late with the slider (27.8 percent). By mixing in his curveball occasionally (6.1 percent), Jackson was able to keep hitters off-balance and induce more swings and misses.
It was evident watching this game that Jackson was trusting his stuff and wasted no time trying to get ahead of hitters. This has now become a trend as Jackson has just three walks in his last three starts, and if he can consistently keep the ball in the zone, 2014 should be the best season of his career.
Originally drafted as an outfielder, learning the nuances of pitching has likely taken longer with Jackson that it has with most pitchers. Many pitchers do not fully blossom until they reach their 30s and have truly learned how to intelligently pitch against opposing batters. In the case of Jackson, he may just now be learning that his stuff is good enough to beat hitters and that he is better off throwing strikes rather than getting behind batters and either getting hit hard, or giving up walks.
For the season, Jackson has a 3.98 ERA and his 3.02 FIP ranks 25th in all of baseball. With a fastball that runs at 94 mph and a hard biting slider at 86, Jackson has the arsenal to continue to have success as a starting pitcher. He is also the model of health and in this era of MLB, that is a skill not to be taken lightly.
If he has finally figured out how to pitch with a plan on the mound, Jackson may be on the verge of not only a breakout season, but also a turning point in his career.