What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you read the name Luke Jackson? What if I told you his 0.3 fWAR was higher than Jesse Biddle’s? What if I told you his 0.3 fWAR was higher than that of anyone on this list of players: Jose Ramirez, Josh Ravin, Chase Whitley, Wes Parsons, Lucas Sims, Kyle Wright, Evan Phillips, Kolby Allard, and Peter Moylan?
When you look at his traditional stats there isn’t too much to like - 1-2 record, 4.43 ERA, 4.65 BB/9 rate. But if you dig a little deeper - Jackson flashed a enough to be considered a potentially useable bullpen arm — and not just at the minor league level. Jackson had a high .339 BABIP which shows he was a bit unlucky, and as a result of that poor luck his LOB rate leaves a lot to be desired: 70.2%. The Braves showcased top tier defense in 2018, but they they really let Jackson down as he way outpitched his ERA to the tune of a 3.55 FIP. Meanwhile, he posted a solid 25% strikeout rate, which is something you want to see out of your relief options.
Now don’t get me wrong - I’m not calling Luke Jackson an elite reliever however I firmly believe the hates he gets isn’t as warranted as many believe. Compared to previous seasons, he looked a lot better and that’s because he might have found something in his slider - a pitch he used significantly more in 2018 (42.2% up from 29.9%). Throwing his slider a lot more apparently kept hitters more off balance and let his fastball play off of this; his pitch value for his fastball (1.9) was the highest of his career. His boogers picked (wBOOG+) lead the majors.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018?
In the majors: 1-2, 40.2 IP, 4.43 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 1.52 WHIP, 10.18 K/9, 4.65 BB/9.
In the minors: 2-1, 21.1 IP, 1.69 ERA, 1.55 FIP, 0.98 WHIP, 14.35 K/9, 4.22 BB/9.
Will he be on the roster in 2019? At this point, who knows if he will even make the Spring Training roster, much less the major league roster. But, relief demands being what they are, if he pitches well again at Gwinnett, he’ll get another look in Atlanta.
What is he going to do in 2019? I believe what we saw last year was a slightly unlucky pitcher who pitched to the best of his capabilities. With the ball going his way next season and you may see a 0.5 fWAR relief pitcher. Things to work on include his ugly walk rate, which precludes his usage in higher-leverage situations, and he didn’t exactly inspire confidence that he could face lefties either with an xFIP against them near 5.00.
Highlight of 2018: Believe it or not, Jackson actually threw a scoreless high-leverage inning that worked out well for the Braves. On June 25, he worked around a two-out walk (always with the walks) to retire the Reds in order in the 11th before Ozzie Albies ended the game with a walkoff homer.
Also, never forget this bizarre moment, when the Braves asked Luke Jackson to enter the game with the bases loaded and two outs while up by four to face Adam Eaton, and Jackson somehow managed to come through.
Lowlight of 2018: Not even a hard call. The Braves had a two-run lead in the sixth in Phoenix, and pulled Touki Toussaint after he allowed two runners to reach base with two outs. Inexplicably, Luke Jackson was inserted into this close, meaningful game with the tying runs on base, and things went more or less as potentially expected: single, walk, single, single — pulled from the game. Jackson threw 21 pitches across four batters and got zero outs, turning a two-run lead into a two-run deficit in the process. Yay. Except not yay. Luckily, the Braves’ heroics, including a huge Ender Inciarte three-run homer bailed him and the bewildering decision to insert him into a close game out.