The Cubs haven’t scored since Sunday afternoon and the offense has sputtered throughout the season. But one bright spot has been the starting pitching. Led by ace Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood, along with newcomer Jason Hammel, have been giving the Cubs a chance to win every time they pick up the ball and get up on the mound. One starter has gotten the most heat since early last year and that is Edwin Jackson.
Jackson, who signed a 4 year $52 million deal before the 2013 season, has not gotten off to the best start in his young Cubs career. He finished last season with the most losses in the NL, 18, and an ERA of 4.98, which was one of the worst of his career. But to go along with those stats, there were some sports that gave hope when looking forward to this year. He had an above average FIP (Fielding Independence Pitching) of 3.79. FIP is a stat that measures how well a pitcher actually pitched given what he can control. Looking forward to 2014, there was a lot of hope that Jackson would turn it around going forward, but so far, that hasn’t happened.
Through three starts, Jackson has a 6.19 ERA as he has given up 11 earned runs in 16 innings. Walks have been an issue for Jackson as he has walked 12 in those 16 innings. These stats have gotten Cubs fans and analysts going nuts. People saying that the front office missed on Jackson, saying that Jackson should be traded, and saying Jackson will not be on the team when the team goes on to, hopefully, win the World Series in a few years.
Many people say that, but in my opinion, I don’t believe any of that is true. Of course, it is hard not to look at the struggles and come to that conclusion, but there are positive things to look at when looking at Jackson going forward.
Number one item I like going forward about Jackson is his contract. Now, people may say they over paid for him, but I don’t see it that way. Sure, he got paid $13 million last year to compile an ERA close to five, but going forward, it is actually not that bad. From 2014-2016, Jackson’s contract is worth 3 years and only $33 million. If you look at these next three years, including this one, that deal is a great find going forward for a middle of the rotation pitcher with occasionally number two, or even number one, stuff.
Let’s take a look and compare Jackson’s deal going forward (3 years, $33 million) to a deal that was made this offseason. Let’s take Matt Garza’s deal to compare. Garza signed a 4 year, $50 million deal with the Brewers in the off-season. Now, I’m not saying Jackson is better than Garza, but Jackson has had a better FIP the last two years. Also, Jackson has logged more innings than Garza, who has been a health risk for his entire career. Garza is owed $12.5 million over the next 4 years. Isn’t Jackson the safer bet going forward? Jackson is more durable than Garza and for a number 3 starter, Jackson is a perfect ft for the Cubs.
Reason number two Jackson looks good going forward is where are you going to find established starting pitching? Jackson is a perfect 3 starter going forward on a winning team, or even a 4. Now, the Cubs do have some pitching accumulating in AAA and AA, but you don’t know if these guys can come in and perform well in the major leagues. Also, if the Cubs are going to trade Jeff Samardzija, they are going to get young pitching talent, but most likely single A arms. Jackson can help build the bridge to the young arms and help them get their confidence in the bigs. Another way you can get starting pitching is through free agency, but that seems less likely to happen, seeing as teams are eager to lock up their young arms on team friendly deals that buys out their arbitration years. So if you are going to sign someone through free agency, you are going to get a guy who is equal to Jackson’s talent or worse. Flippable pieces are nice, but they are only on one year deals and you get talent back for them, but it is younger prospects. In my opinion, Jackson is a stable piece in the rotation and can be that for the next three years.
The last reason is that Jackson can actually turn this season around. Jackson’s walk rate is irregularly high for him. Also, Jackson has given up a .396 average in balls in play, which is also abnormally high. Jackson’s three starts have come against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Pirates at home, and in St. Louis. Not exactly three teams that are easy to get out. His first start in Pittsburgh was his best, giving up two runs in 5.1 innings, and only one of those runs were earned. The second start against Pittsburgh was a little bit rougher. He gave up six runs in 4.2 innings, but it is tough to face a team back-to-back to start the year. Teams have a good idea what is coming and it showed. Jackson gave up nine hits in those 4.2 innings. And his final start was in St. Louis where he gave up four runs in six innings. But, during the game, Jackson gave up three runs in the first two innings, and then the rain came. After almost an hour, Jackson only gave up a run in the four innings after. If Jackson can cut back on his walks and get more groundballs, he can get back to form. And crazy enough, his FIP is better than last year at 3.73, where 3.75 in above average.
Now I’m not saying Jackson is an ace, but he is a solid pitcher for the Cubs. I am looking forward to getting to watch him pitch for the next three years and I hope he shuts the haters up.
The Cubs take on the division rival, Reds this weekend and so we have a guest blogger in to preview why the outlook is not good for the Cubs.
Why The Reds Will Crush the Cubs
by Greg Daffler
Not only have the Reds (6-9) gotten off to a slow start in the standings, but the Reds’ bats were on a delayed flight from Spring Training and arrived in Cincinnati about two weeks after the start of the season. The Reds scored only 28 runs in their first 11 games, which included three 1-0 pitcher’s duels. New manager Bryan Price made a lineup move five games ago that you’d never see in a Dusty Baker lineup card: Joey Votto batting #2 in the lineup. Since the team has busted out for 30 runs in their last four games against the Rays and the Pirates, I suspect we’ll see Votto in his new lineup spot for the foreseeable future.
Highlighting the Reds biggest lineup change from one year ago is centerfielder and leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton. Hamilton can change the game with his speed if he could just get on base. Case in point, to lead off the first inning in Wednesday’s 4-0 win over the Pirates, Hamilton walked, stole second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and then scored on another wild pitch. Devin Mesoraco has replaced Ryan Hanigan behind the plate as the full time starting catcher. Though an oblique injury delayed his start to the season, Mesoraco has been crushing the ball in 6 games since being activated, including with 11 hits, 3 doubles, and 3 homeruns.
Given the recent resurgence in run production and the often stellar pitching, I like the Reds chances to win 2 or 3 of the games this weekend. The Reds have allowed the 3rd fewest runs per game in the NL this season. Four of the five Reds starting pitchers rank in the top 21 in National League ERA.
The toughest pitching matchup on paper for the Reds will be Friday’s afternoon affair against Jeff Samardzija. While Mat Latos is on the DL with a right elbow injury and an unknown timetable for his return, Alfredo Simon (Friday) has stepped in and made two big starts already. Starting for the first time since 2011, Simon has pitched 15 innings and allowed just one run in each of his appearances.
Tony Cingrani (Saturday) hasn’t allowed more than 5 hits in any of his first 21 major league starts (h/t to Neal Kendrick). While Homer Bailey (Sunday) has had a rough couple of starts this season, last year he ranked 21st among National League starters in WAR.
The Reds bullpen has been hit the hardest with injuries to their primary 8th and 9th inning relievers. Aroldis Chapman broke a bone near his eye during spring training and won’t return until May. Jonathan Broxton has only made two appearances since recently returning from the DL. Sean Marshall is currently on a rehab assignment with AAA Louisville and could be activated to face his former team sometime this weekend.