Nationals Baseball: The Underappreciated Edwin Jackson and Boras' potentially wrong move

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Underappreciated Edwin Jackson and Boras' potentially wrong move

When you think of the Nats starting pitching you do tend to forget Edwin Jackson.  Obviously Strasburg is the first name that comes to mind, followed by Gio and the year he's having. ZNN is probably next given he's the only one that pitched last year, was good then, and is good now. Then maybe you think of Jackson, but probably you thought of Detwiler early on with his great start, then nobody, and now you're thinking about Chien Ming Wang.'

I'm not saying this is necessarily unfair to Jackson. He's less talented than the Top 3, older than everyone, and the only one not guaranteed to be here next year. He started slow, and he has only 1 win. Still... he's you could argue* he's been the Nats second best starter this season.  He's 2nd to Gio in WHIP and H/9, 2nd to ZNN in BB/9, 3rd in K behind Strasburg and Gio (yes 3rd out of 5 isn't a big deal, but Gio and Stras are fighting over the league lead).  It's his best season ever, so far. According to pitching WAR he's been the 18th most valuable starter in the NL. You can believe in the ranking of that number as much as you want but it nails what all the other stats say too.  He's pitched like a #2 guy out of the #4 slot.

But that factoid - that he's in the #4 slot - is what makes makes his signing here a mistatke.  Not by Rizzo but by Boras. You only sign a one-year deal at age 28 if you want to use that one-year as a springboard to something bigger. That elusive long-term, big-money deal that all players want. But to justify that to the fans and to the owners you need more than fancy stats. You need results. You need wins - as many, in as big as situations as possible.

The "many" part is a problem, because of the offense behind Edwin. The Nationals line-up is low-scoring, you can't deny that.  It may improve in the future, but for a good 3rd of the season it'll be in the bottom of the NL and it's not likely to jump above average at any point in the year. Those type of offenses create games where wins and losses are decided almost at random, and often late in the games.  If you can't just shut a team down (like Gio and Stras can) you can easily end up with a well-pitched loss. The Nats are tied for 4th in wins in the majors, but have only 2 pitchers with 4+ wins.  The other three teams have at least 3.  Edwin has been on the receiving end of some poor luck when it comes to this and has only 1. His luck could turn but then again, it could not.

The "big situation" could also be part of the problem. As the 4th guy in the rotation, who's to say what his role will be come playoff time? Certainly Strasburg and Gio will go 1, 2 (assuming Strasburg's arm is ok to do it). That next game feels much more likely to go to ZNN than Edwin. ZNN might not have as good stats as Edwin this year, but he's almost as good (and might be better come year's end), he's shown he's more capable of pitching that plus-level game (he's more little girl with the curl to EJax's "Steady Eddie"), and he's the guy you are going to want to keep happy since he's coming back.  That leaves Edwin in the 4th spot, but if the Nats fall down 2-1 in the playoffs, are you going to really going to go with Edwin over Gio or Strasburg again?  (OK probably over Strasburg again - if you are pitching him at that point you are going to be very arm aware)

Suddenly Boras is trying to sell a guy with a 9-12 record who was left out of a playoff rotation as a guy worth a big mutli-year deal? Good luck with that. We'll see what happens - maybe Strasburg does shut down and Edwin wins a playoff MVP.  Or maybe he reverts to pitching like the last few years, continues to get no support and is a 4.00 ERA pitcher with a 6-14 record looking for a 5 year 100 million dollar deal.  Whatever happens this isn't a Nats problem. They are golden to have Edwin pitch like this out of the #4 slot, but depending on what they actually turned down it looks like it might be a misstep by the Boars regime that could cost his client millions.

* You could. I personally would still argue Strasburg is the 2nd best (and pretty easily so) but the argument could be made.


cass said...

A little confused by this.

I don't see how Jackson has been outshone by Detwiler. And I don't see how Strasburg will ever be pitching in the playoffs, so EJax should be good to go there. And do teams still look at wins anymore? They certainly don't look at ERA over FIP, if Lannan's trade value is any indication.

Edwin Jackson should be ok, I think, and given that he's the most durable member of the rotation, I imagine he'll be quite valuable in October, should the Nats still be playing then.

Harper said...

cass - he was definitely outshone by Detwiler early in the year. Not EJax fault but Detwiler had an ERA <1 after 3 starts. A week into May things might have been clearer on who was better but by that time all the focus was on Bryce.

I wouldn't rule out Strasburg in the playoffs. Remember 160 is not hard and fast and if the Nats are solidly in the playoffs you might see Strasburg skip some starts down the stretch specifically to pitch in the playoffs.

Wins won't matter much to GMs with knowledge, but the guys with the pocket books aren't always that bright, (neither are the ones filling those pocket books). Could he get the deal, sure - but I guarantee you it's a much tougher sell at 9-12 than 16-6.

Again - we'll see. There's a lot of green left on this putt.

WiredHK said...

Since it is a business, I'm fairly sure both sides (GM and EJax Reps) will be well aware of the relative value of wins compared to meaningful statistics that directly relate to how well the player can play (i.e. not wins or losses).

However, the art of the negotiation itself will certainly see the GM/Team using a low win total as leverage to lower a deal price and the agent/player doing their best to get such things ignored.

Any agent worth their salt should be able to extract the right price based on the player's real value on the field....but it sure would be kind of fun to get to be a fly on the wall in the room of one of those types of negotiations....

Harper said...

WiredHK - that's all I'm really saying. You want to go into FA with as few negatives and as many positives as possible. The Nats situation (where Edwin is the 4th guy and he may not get a lot of wins) loses him two potential positives. This isn't going to keep him from making a ton of money, but it could mean one-ton instead of two.

WiredHK said...

I agree with you, Harper. EJax's win total may be so low that it cannot help but be used against him successfully - even if the end dollar difference doesn't seem that big of a deal to us (hey, what's a few million to a millionaire, right?).

That said, perhaps Edwin was ok knowing that as a risk going into the season (after all, most people didn't think the Nats would even be in the hunt just yet - so it would be reasonable to think one's win total may not be as good as possible on such a team).

And in the end, he may turn out to win big - who knows. If the team makes the playoffs, Stras gets limited or shutdown (a real possibility), and EJax shines in the post-season...he could be in a strong position to have his win totals from the year all but forgotten...we'll see.

Harper said...

WiredHK - And really it comes down to something we don't know - what he was offered in the offseason. If he turned down multi-year deals for the Orioles and Pirates then you understand (even if the O's might make him regret it). You want a high-scoring team, going to the playoffs, where you are one of their best 3 pitchers. The Nats only (possibly) satisfy one of those things (maybe 2 - Strasburg dependent) but perhaps that was the best situation on the table. I tend to doubt it - but maybe.

WiredHK said...

Although I could see how EJax may have viewed the Nats as all three of those things (after all, maybe people inside baseball actually did think the Nats could make a playoff run, what with the expanded WC situation and all). So, he thinks the Nats are a contender right now. He also sees a lineup including Zim, Morse, Werth, LaRoche, eventually Harper and promising young talent like Desmond, Espinoza and Ramos - and he thinks, heck this team is going to definitely score some runs.

So, last is the question of being one of the three best. He may view himself as even with ZNN - and, of course, if he was sold on Stras absolutely being shutdown in August - it's not a stretch for me to see him viewing this team as a great situation to win and to cash in later by being a part of.

Anonymous said...

Is there any chance EJ signs an extension to stay with the Nats beyond this season? I love watching him pitch and pinch run, and it would be really cool to keep the top 4 of this staff together for a couple years. With this rotation this team is a contender. But would EJ want to be the 4th man, and would Rizzo shell out 6-8 mil per year for a 4th starter?

Anonymous said...

There's about a 95% chance that Strasburg won't be pitching in the playoffs this year, so half of your article didn't need to be written.

Bob said...

That's part of an important question--who are the 4 and 5 starters next year? Wang and Jackson are free agents. Lannan has a 6 plus ERA in Syracuse and probably won't be tendered anyway. Det is banished to the pen. Rosenbaum is the only real prospect anywhere close to the bigs and it's not like has great stuff. Purke, Meyer, and Ray are still far, far away. Solis is recovering from TJ. Pitching could go from a surplus to an area of need quickly. Any thoughts?

Hoo said...

Jackson is also an innings eater leading the Sps in IPs. The Nats bullpen should head into late summer the most rested they've ever been. It's still early but only H-Rod makes the top 20 in appearances and he's #18.

Jackson's problem is that he's not new, shiny or seem to have a future here. Dett is more interesting from a 2013 perspective. Wang for his return and Stras/Gio are Stras/Gio. So EJ just gets left out of the hype.

Kenny B. said...

I haven't watched many games pitched by EJax, but I did watch some of last night. From what I saw, Marlins Park was being very kind to him with a lot of long fly ball outs. Is this indicative of his success so far? Is his BABIP weirdly low? I know one game is not enough to judge, but just thought I would pose the question.

Kenny B. said...

A good article that speaks to my question above:

Apparently his BABIP is low, but it might not be only by luck.

Harper said...

Anon #1 - it's possible, I guess. Depends on if EJAX can get the big deal elsewhere. I guarantee Rizzo is unlikely to spend a lot to extend him more than a couple of years. Other than that there are a number of ways this can go. What does the 8-ball say? "Forecast hazy"?

Anon #2 - I'd like to believe that but I also have a hard time buying the Nats significantly reducing their chances of playoff success. Here I'd say It'd be great to be proven wrong because hey the Nats are in the playoffs

Bob - If Wang pitches well enough I think he'd be back. I don't see him asking for too much year wise to dissuade Rizzo. Personally, I love the idea of getting a 4th high quality arm (and throwing up your hands at the offense) Grienke, Hamels. Put together a devastating rotation, bUT Rizzo hasn't shown any inclination to pay out long term contracts for pitchers. If Rosenbaum doesn't look ready expect a short-term FA deal like the one EJAX got. Who? It'll depend on what shakes out.

Hoo - shame but true. If he keeps this up he'll get more attn at year's end though - because they'll be talk that he should come back, but that's a long way from now.

mwyche said...

I can see Wang/Jackson being extended the staff is going to need that 5 guy next year. With Stras/Gio/JZ/Detwiller being the top 4.

Can't see Rizzo paying more than 10-12 million a year to a starter on the FA market when he's going to have to extend Stras and JZ soon.

10-12 million a year should put us in the EJax, S. Marcum territory.

Zimmerman11 said...

Let's not forget that even less Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock... the Nats farm system has some promising young arms...Meyer, Purke, etc. to fill that number 5 spot. As much as I'd like to see Hamels and Harper kiss and makeup on the same team next year, it's probably smarter to spend that money on one of the CF FAs (Bourn, Upton, Hamilton, Granderson(club option)).

Section 222 said...

Posted this in the wrong spot -- sorry.

Seems to me almost as likely that Boras knew exactly what he was doing, assuming that Strasburg will be shut down at the end of August (as much as we want to convince ourselves he won't if we're in the hunt), leaving EJax as at worst the third starter for the playoffs. But even if he wasn't making that assumption, I'm not sure how he would go about getting a competitive offer from a team that was guaranteed to (1) boost EJax's win percentage by having a good offense and (2) make the playoffs with fewer than three established starters already under contract.

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