Edwin Jackson has made Major League Baseball history by now playing for his record 14th team after pitching for the Blue Jays last week following a trade from Oakland. He was a 6th round draft pick of the Dodgers back in 2001 and appeared in his first game in 2003 at just 19 years old. Really then – from the beginning his career was one of mixed messages. Just a 6th round pick, which generally produces about 23% of All Stars, BUT also debuting at 19 years old after just 31 minor league games and 21 starts. So generating promise and flashes of brilliance – but failing to live up to higher expectations.
Speaking of mixed messages, that is about where he stands today in his baseball life. To play for 14 major league teams certainly means your services are in demand, and yet also that no one has necessarily regarded you as irreplaceable.
Health in today’s game counts for something, and as more teams enter rebuilding phases perhaps it is not surprising that someone like Jackson can bounce around to fill rotation spots and even find success with teams like Oakland in 2018.
The numbers bear out just about how exactly average Jackson has been compared to the other starting pitchers around him, ranging from 19 year old phenoms to 24 year old flame-outs to…Bartolo Colon.
If you take the average of all pitchers from Edwin’s debut 2003 season through 2018, here is how he shakes out:
He has a career WAR of 10.3 – defined as “claimed to be the number of additional wins his team has achieved above the number of expected team wins if that player were substituted with a replacement-level player: a player who may be added to the team for minimal cost and effort.” This definitely certainly seems to sum up Edwin Jackson pretty well.
Digging into the Baseball Reference WAR a bit more for example, he has just 6 seasons of a WAR rating over 1, including a career high in 2009 with Detroit of 4.2, which also was his only All Star selection. He also only has two seasons with a negative WAR over 1, both with dreadful Chicago Cubs teams.
Six times he has topped 25 games started, and usually pitches for pretty bad teams. Last year he lucked out with Oakland and made the playoffs again, though he has only appeared in the playoffs three times; with Tampa Bay in 2008, St. Louis in 2011 (which they won), and the Nationals in 2012.
His arguable career highlight besides the World Championship with the Cardinals was the no-hitter he threw in 2010 while with the Diamondbacks. In it he threw 145 pitches which stands as the highest no hitter pitch count since 1988. What is more incredible about that effort is that he walked 8 and had 70 pitches and had already walked 7 through 3 innings.
His big payday moment came when the Cubs signed him to a 4 year, $52M contract to start the 2013 season. It did not go well. Early in the season he broke the single inning wild pitch record with 5. He finished the year 8-18 with an ERA of 4.98, which ended up better than the next season where he compiled a 6-15 record with an ERA of 6.33. The Cubs ended up releasing him in the middle of the next season and ate the rest of the contract. For his career he has made over $66M.
Baseball pitchers often have many lives though – and Jackson kept on finding spots to pitch. He filled some innings for the bad Braves in 2015, the worse Marlins and Padres in 2016, before playing for the Nationals again in 2017 and pitching well for them. That led him to the A’s in 2018 where he helped replace injured starters for a team that won the Wild Card.
Which leads us to 2019. The Blue Jays have some promising offensive rookies, but as has been true often in his career, not a lot on the pitching front. He is perfect for teams like this, who don’t want to burn through prospects at the Major League level or spend much money on any other free agent pitchers. Why they haven’t signed James Shields to eat up some innings is beyond me, or even the ageless wonder Bartolo Colon, who everyone wants in the National League again just to watch him hit.
In the end, Edwin Jackson has survived in Major League Baseball for many years, and appears to have several left in him, though 2019 with the Blue Jays is not off to a good start. Jackson allowed 7 runs in just 4 innings of work to take the loss. Jackson is just 35 years old and could easily not be done just yet. Perhaps instead of criticizing him for the relative anonymous nature of his career we should marvel at it. Though many fans of teams he did play for could barely tell you that he did, that might be his genius.
Edwin Jackson: The Best Average Starter in Major League Baseball History.