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March 14, 2012 posted by Albert Lang

Edwin Jackson, Seizing that Potential: 2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

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Edwin Jackson, seemingly, has failed to take advantage of many things during his playing career, most notably his immense talent.  In addition, Jackson has failed to pilfer the National League recently. He has spent parts of the last two seasons in the NL, but had lower K/9 rates and higher FIPs and xFIPs than he had in the American League. Surprisingly, he was far better for the White Sox, in that ballpark, than for the Diamondbacks and Cardinals.

This couldn’t all be explained by Don Cooper, Chicago’s superb pitching coach, as Jackson worked with pretty good coaches in Arizona and St. Louis. In reality, this is probably one of the more bizarre small sample size issues there has been, as he’s pitched just 212.1 innings in the NL over the last two seasons. In addition, his NL stints were separated by 75 innings in the AL in 2010 and 121.2 IPs in 2011. Look for Jackson to take advantage of the NL and pitchers with bats this season.

While Jackson has had phenomenal highs, his equally impressive lows have made him a league average pitcher: 108 ERA+ the last three seasons. In fact, since 2008, Jackson has averaged a 4.06 ERA, 150 K’s, a 1.40 WHIP and a 2.08 K:BB rate. Not overly sexy, but solid, unfortunately solid doesn’t win fantasy championships in most leagues. Expect Jackson to take a marked step forward this year, leaving solid in the dust.

Oddly, Jackson has posted superior swinging strike rates without benefiting his K/9 rate. Since 2009, his 9.8% swinging strike rate is well above league average (8.6%) and tied for the 29th best rate during that span. He is tied with some heavy K guys: Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Felix Hernandez.

However, Jackson’s 7.08 K/9 rate during that same time frame is just 65th and behind J.A. Happ, yes, that J.A. Happ. As Jackson takes advantage of NL line-ups, he’ll also translate his swinging strike rate into more K’s.

The average K/9 rate of the 34 pitchers with at least a 9.4% swinging strike rate over the last three years is 8.32. Of those pitchers with swinging strike rates between 9.4% and 10.20%, the average K/9 rate is 8.07. Despite being healthy, Jackson seems to be the complete laggard when it comes to actually ringing people up. If you’re a glass half full guy, there’s a lot of potential for Jackson in these comparisons.

That said, there isn’t a ton of optimism among projections that Jackson will approach an 8 K/9 rate, with the most optimistic pegging him for around a 7.3 K/9 rate.

However, even if the projection systems are correct, at worst, you’ll be fine with a typical Jackson season: 160 K’s, a 3.80 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. However, there is considerable upside. You shouldn’t be shocked if Jackson ends 2012 with 170 K’s, a 7.7 K/9 rate, a 3.65 ERA, and 1.28 WHIP. By way of comparison, those K’s would put him 34th, the ERA would put him 45th and the WHIP would put him tied for 48th last year.

Meanwhile, ADP has Jackson as the 295th player off the board and 82nd starting pitcher. He gets a small bump in most of the consensus rankings (220th or so player, 65th SP), but he has upside to be a top 30-40 starting pitcher at the end of 2012. Drafting a #3 starter toward the end of a draft is key to spending early on hitting while also competing in pitching. For this strategy, Jackson is your man!

You’d certainly do better calling Jackson’s number than Erik Bedard, Roy Oswalt, Mike Leake, Edinson Volquez, Brett Anderson, Kyle Lohse, R.A. Dickey, Ryan Vogelsong, Brandon McCarthy, and a whole host of ne’er-do-well starting pitchers with higher ADPs.

Albert has been playing and arguing about baseball and fantasy sports since 2002. Since 1982, he has also been largely miserable (here’s looking at you Armando Benitez) because of the Orioles and Eagles. Albert has won leagues and lost leagues, but he has the most fun debating player values. Albert typically plays in several baseball and football leagues a year. He also is an avid baseball card collector and writes about older players and their historical value relative to the Hall of Fame and their peers/current players. When not harassing league mates with trades and analyzing what categories his team performs poorly in, Albert is a communications professional in Washington, D.C. Follow Albert on Twitter @h2h_corner. He has an awesome puppy named Charlotte. You can find all of Albert's work at http://h2hcorner.wordpress.com/.
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