by Joe Giglio
On Thursday, Edwin Jackson agreed to join the Chicago Cubs rotation. In return, the Chicago Cubs agreed to pay $52 million for a right-handed pitcher widely thought of as a disappointment, average pitcher, and worth far less than the money he received.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In a market where a pitcher -- Zack Greinke -- can parlay a 3.83 ERA from 2010-12 into the highest average annual salary for an arm in the history of the sport, surely Jackson is worth what the Cubs paid him.
Unfortunately, fans don’t see the value in a durable, consistent arm. Instead, fans are caught up in the world of “worth” and perceptions of what each player is worth based on things that range from stats, demeanor, and cost of other players. Nevermind that the value of a win in baseball is evolving by the year or revenues that continue to skyrocket. Certain players never will be seen in the mainstream as worth big contracts.
Edwin Jackson garnered that type of reaction around the baseball fan community when the details of his contract were released. At four years, $52 million, there is now an expectation among fans on what Jackson should already be and what he won’t live up to. His $13 million average annual salary now ranks him somewhere in the Top 30 paid arms in baseball for 2013.
Without using fancy metrics, here’s a breakdown of why Edwin Jackson was given the money:
In 2012, 43 pitchers in baseball threw at least 189.2 IP with a 4.03 or better ERA. Edwin Jackson was one of them. Jered Weaver wasn’t one of them.
Over the last two seasons, 29 pitchers in baseball threw at least 389.1 IP with a 3.91 or better ERA. Edwin Jackson was one of them. Jon Lester wasn’t one of them.
Over the last three seasons, 27 pitchers in baseball threw at least 598.2 IP with a 4.10 or better ERA. Edwin Jackson was one of them. Johnny Cueto wasn’t one of them.
In 2012, 27 pitchers made 30+ starts while striking out at least 7.97 batters per nine innings. Edwin Jackson was one of them. Ryan Dempster wasn’t one of them.
Over the last two seasons, 24 pitchers posted a FIP of 3.69 or better along with a groundball rate of at least 45%. Edwin Jackson was one of them. Hiroki Kuroda wasn’t one of them.
Over the last three seasons, 20 pitchers threw at least 590 IP while striking out at least 7.47 batters per nine innings. Edwin Jackson was one of them. Matt Cain wasn’t one of them.
None of those facts are meant to place Edwin Jackson in a place he doesn’t belong -- the elite starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. Statistics can be manipulated -- especially in baseball -- to prove a point. Edwin Jackson isn’t better than Weaver, Lester, Cueto, Dempster, Kuroda, or Cain.
Instead, they are to give a glimpse into what the Cubs were thinking when they gave Jackson a contract to help lead their rebuilt rotation and rebuilding project in the short and long-term future. Jackson is durable, overpowers batters, and induces a fair amount of ground balls. He’s only 29. There’s very little history of arm trouble. Despite bouncing around from team to team, there’s little evidence of Jackson being a clubhouse problem.
Playing the free agent market is risky -- especially for pitchers. If a front office were to list qualities that make a pitcher warrant a long-term deal, the following would all be on it: Durability, consistency, and youth.
If you don’t think Edwin Jackson is an “Ace” or top-of-the-rotation starter, there’s little the Cubs or anyone can do to convince you. But if you don’t think Edwin Jackson deserves to be paid like one of baseball’s more consistent arms, you simply are letting perception get in the way of reality.
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WFAN in New York, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.