Back in December 2008 the Tigers completed a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays that sent Matt Joyce to the Rays for Edwin Jackson. I wasn’t a fan of the trade, and those who read the post titled “Tigers set to send talented outfielder to Tampa for guy who throws hard” may have picked up on my displeasure. This is where I say I’m wrong.
Jackson has pitched better than I ever would have anticipated. He was credited with a breakout year in 2008 when he notched 14 wins, but wins and losses don’t really measure breakouts. His walk rate certainly improved, but he struck out fewer than 6 batters per 9 innings. His K/BB ratio was well under 2. Based on his career he looked to be a number 4 starter coming into 2009. That combined with Joyce’s potential, and other issues like contract status and years of service caused me to pan the deal.
But something has changed. Jackson has become a strike throwing machine. After Friday night’s effort he is walking fewer than 2 batters every 9 innings. His K rate is back North of 7 per 9 and he’s keeping the ball in the ballpark. He is benefitting from a low BABIP, but even if that number regresses his peripherals indicate he’s still an above average pitcher.
Whether it is Jackson figuring out how to maximize his stuff, or the tutelage of Rick Knapp, things are working. First pitch strikes are up. Swings and misses are up. Opposing hitters are chasing more pitches out of the zone. These are all good indicators.
We’re only 8 starts into the season and so small sample size balloons are still popping all over, but what is encouraging is that Jackson has never had a string of starts like these 8. And as a young player real improvement is certainly possibility.
As for Matt Joyce, his numbers don’t matter a whole lot at this point. With less than a year of service time he has plenty of time to still be a valuable player. But if Jackson can maintain anything near this pace throughout the season, the cost becomes much less relevant. I’m happy to be wrong so far and I’ll be thrilled to be this wrong at the end of the season as well.