Age: September 9, 1983 (35)
Traditional Stats: 6-3, 3.33 ERA, 1.217 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9, 6.7 K/9
Advanced Stats: 1.6 bWAR, 0.7 fWAR 125 ERA+, 4.65 FIP
It has been a long time since Jackson was considered a top prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. In the ensuing 16 years, Jackson has played for 13 teams in a variety of roles.
For the most part, he had served as a back of the rotation starter. Jackson had some successful campaigns with him being named an All-Star in 2009, and his helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the 2011 World Series. However, after a disastrous stint with the Chicago Cubs where he had a league-leading 18 losses in 2013 and a 6.33 ERA in 2014, the Cubs would try him in the bullpen.
Jackson would actually pitch well in the bullpen. In 23 relief appearances, he was 2-1 with a 3.19 ERA. Even with that run of success and his being owed $13 million that season, the Cubs would release Jackson on the eve of the trade deadline.
Jackson would get picked up by the Braves, and he would continue his good run as a reliever. In 24 relief appearances for the Braves, he was 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA. With his success in the bullpen in 2015, you would have thought Jackson had found a home in the bullpen like many failed starters before him have.
For the ensuing two seasons, he struggled in the rotation as he had with the Cubs. In some ways, it was a little bit of a miracle he had even received a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals entering the 2018 season. After he opted out of the deal on June 1, it is all the more surprising he would be signed by the Oakland Athletics.
None of that was anything compared to how he performed for the Athletics. His ERA was the best he had in eight years. His WHIP was the best he had posted as a starter in his career. Even his suspect FIP was the best he had as a starter since the 2014 season which was a turning point in his career.
The secret of his success was a combination of luck and smart usage. His .240 BABIP was well below his .306 mark, and his 79.2 percent strand rate was significantly better than the 70 percent he has had in his career.
One of the reasons for this success is the Athletics only let him go past the third time through the order once. He exceeded 100 pitches just three times, and he pitched past the sixth inning four times. In essence, the Athletics limited the times he faced an opponent in a game, which was a smart move considering first-time opponents who faced Jackson hit just .174/.250/.297. After that, the numbers improved significantly.
With the way he performed last year, it would seem he would have a chance to either return to the Athletics or find a new team. If he was to sign with a new team, he would break Octavio Dotel‘s record for most teams played for in an MLB career.
Despite the fact that Jackson’s 2018 season was surprisingly good, he really should not get more than a minor league deal. Given his age and history of performance, he’d be hard pressed to get more than the league minimum or a heavy incentive-laden deal due to his likelihood to regress in a larger sample size in 2019.
Recently, Jason Vargas has spoken about being willing to be challenged for the fifth starter spot. Based upon the Mets offseason maneuvers, it does not seem like there will be a real competition even with Hector Santiago being an All-Star four years ago. The best bet from that standpoint would be Corey Oswalt, who did not pitch particularly well in his rookie season, or Chris Flexen, who appears healthier and stronger after knee surgery in 2018.
Even though Jackson is a well-known name, it is highly unlikely he could truly compete for the fifth starter spot. Given his apparent reluctance to relieve, it does not appear like he would be willing to join anyone’s bullpen. If a team was smart, they would sign Jackson to a deal similar to the one he signed with the Nationals last year. Let him pitch in Triple-A, give him the June 1 opt out, and hope you will never need him.
With respect to the Mets, they have five starters who each have a significant injury history. Notably, Noah Syndergaard has had successive seasons with a lengthy stint on the disabled list, and Steven Matz has landed on the disabled list each year of his career. Given the injury histories and the success Jackson had last year, he could prove to be necessary starting pitching depth.
And who knows? Maybe Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland could convince Jackson to pitch in the bullpen and have the type of career renaissance we once saw Darren Oliver have with the Mets in 2006. For that reason alone, he is well worth a flyer.