Our rundown of the 2017 Atlanta Braves bullpen continues with a closer look at Luke Jackson.
What were the expectations?
The Braves acquired Jackson in a trade with the Texas Rangers last December in exchange for Tyrell Jenkins and Brady Feigl. Jackson made FanGraphs’ Top 200 prospects list in 2015 checking in at No. 135. He was one of Texas’ top prospects in 2016 but struggled with his control and command in the minors and during a brief stint with the Rangers.
The Braves acquisition of Jackson was another example of them buying low on a former prospect.
Luke Jackson 2017 Projections/Stats
|Luke Jackson (ZiPs)
|Luke Jackson (Actual)
Jackson began the season in the rotation at Gwinnett but transitioned back to the bullpen. He enjoyed an early cup of coffee with the Braves in late April before returning to the minors. He was back in the majors by the end of May and ended up sticking through the remainder of the season.
Jackson ended up making 43 appearances with the Braves and was able to significantly cut his walks but it came at the expense of his strikeout rate. He averaged 3.38 walks per nine innings which was by far a career best but his strikeouts suffered a significant drop as well to 5.86.
Jackson put up uninspiring numbers all around (4.62 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 5.29 xFIP) while working in something between middle relief and mop-up duty. He didn’t really contribute much but also didn’t particularly hurt the team: in general, mop-up guys aren’t long for the major leagues because they aren’t very good, and thus get swapped in and out with other reinforcements. But Luke Jackson held on to his role for over 50 innings, putting up a WPA of just -0.02 therein. He had only one particularly “important” outing where he succeeded, and only a couple of outings where he seriously hurt his team’s chances to win, out of 43 total appearances. Compare that to: Jim Johnson (WPA swing of over 0.09 or under -0.09 in 21 of 61 outings); Arodys Vizcaino (24 of 62 outings); Sam Freeman (16 of 58 outings); and Jose Ramirez (24 of 68 outings). Each of those relievers got as many or more innings as Jackson, and had about a quarter to half of their outings matter, one way or another. Jackson, meanwhile, never moved the needle.
In fact, this makes sense in an interesting-but-wholly-not-noteworthy way. Luke Jackson was the mop-uppiest reliever in baseball. His average leverage index was the lowest for any reliever with 48 or more innings. His leverage index when starting any given inning game was also the lowest for any such reliever. His leverage index when entering the game was the second-lowest for any such reliever. His leverage index when exiting the game was the fourth-lowest. He had the third-lowest count of aggregate shutdowns and meltdowns, was tied for the second-fewest shutdowns, and the seventh-fewest meltdowns. Only one other pitcher who pitched as many innings had less impact on the games he was in (Drew Storen), in aggregate.
Jackson was able to garner some valuable experience in 2017 with some predictably mixed results. There has never been a question about his stuff but whether or not he can harness it enough to be successful. Jackson should get another opportunity in what could be quite a spring battle for bullpen spots in 2018.
(My personal prediction is that Luke Jackson’s lasting contribution to Atlanta Braves lore will be that he will constantly trip up people trying to name historic Braves rosters in Sporcle quizzes for years to come. It’s hard to imagine a player having less of an impact, good or bad, in 50 innings, than what Luke Jackson managed in 2017. It’s pretty impressive, in and of itself.)