Luke Jackson – We Will See You Soon

The Non-Statistical Take

First of all, sorry it has been so long since my last article. I had to get some stuff out for our eBook (very well done by my colleagues I might add) and had to finish up a semester as well as apply to my next academic venture, a predictive analytics Master’s program.  
Luke Jackson is close.  Luke Jackson is very close.   What does that mean?  Unlike some of the high risk, high reward players that played for Hickory this year the fact is that you will probably see Luke Jackson in Arlington at some point in 2014.  He may be a reliever.  He may be needed for a spot start.  Yes I realize this would start his “clock” however he has enough talent that one could justify his promotion in spite of that.

So who is Luke Jackson?  Luke Jackson was selected by the Rangers as the 45th overall pick in the 2010 draft.   He started his professional career in 2011 in low A, started there again in 2012 but halfway through was promoted to high A Myrtle Beach where he actually pitched better than he did in low A.  In 2013 he started in Myrtle Beach and then was promoted to AA Frisco in time to make 6 appearances, 4 of which were starts.  

I had the privilege of watching Jackson make a start on August 25th.  He pitched very well that game.  His fastball had good jump to it and he was commanding it well that night.  His curveball was good when working but very inconsistent.  His last start of the season I watched him pitch on TV and got a better angle of why his FB was inconsistent.  Jackson has a long arm motion but it is controlled.  However, sometimes this can lead to an early start to the curveball.  Basically he gets underneath it sometimes which takes away the break and command of the pitch. 

Luckily, this is a correctable issue.  

He also started throwing what many people thought was a new pitch that had a couple more ticks than his curveball.  Apparently, it was still his curveball just simply thrown a little harder.  Very interested to see how the whole curveball/slurve dynamic develops this next year.   His changeup is also a touch inconsistent but when it is going it is an above average major league pitch.

The biggest concerns about Jackson are his command (more on that later) and the repeatability of his mechanics.  He is a little longer and has more moving parts than you would sometimes want from a pitcher which can cause issues.  Due to that there are many that think Jackson is more suited for the bullpen.  It is simple logic, it is easier to repeat your mechanics for 15-20 pitches than it is for 95-100 pitches (plus his CB inconsistency).  Full disclosure, I am higher on Jackson (plus he has similar arm action to what I had in college except, ya know, for the fact he is good) than most but even if you are not then his floor is probably a very good setup man.  There is definite value in that.

The Statistical Take

Now onto the nerdy/fun (to me) stuff.  Many times by looking at minor league numbers you can get a little bit of a handle on how they will do in the majors. Looking strictly at the numbers the biggest concern for me is Jackson’s BB/9. However, with that high BB/9 comes a very impressive K/9.  I wanted to concentrate mainly on Jackson’s performance at High A Myrtle Beach last year.  Last year was definitely his most successful season as well as the most recent one of course.  Jackson posted a 9.27 K/9 and a 4.19 BB/9.   Just for comparison’s sake there have been only 14 qualified seasons where Major League pitchers have had similar peripherals (9+ K/9 and 4+ BB/9).  That 14 seasons represents only 1.15% of all qualified seasons.   


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Additionally, only 117 pitchers (9.6%) have had BB/9 rates over 4.  Their median FIP was 4.63 and their median ERA was 4.26 while their median WAR was 2.0.  That basically equates to a number 4 starter.  The median WAR for a starter that kept their K/9 above 9.0 is 3.55.  It is possible that Jackson could be successful if he maintained his K/9 but seeing that only 1.15% of our population did it is highly unlikely he will achieve that.

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This picture depicts all pitchers from High A who threw 100 or more innings since 2006 (courtesy:  There are some familiar names on this list such as Zach Wheeler, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, et al.  Unfortunately, the best season I could find of those on the list was Chris Tillman’s 2.0 fWAR season from 2013.  Most of the other pitchers are making or have made their name in the bullpen. Obviously, there are several indicators we can look at but history is showing that the type of profile that Jackson has created for himself is a little tenuous when it comes to major league success. 

All of that being said, what exactly does Jackson have to do?  Well simply looking at every pitcher with a BB/9 over 4 shows a myriad of pretty successful relievers mostly.  Jackson needs to decrease his BB/9.  Clearly this is just a snapshot in a pitcher’s career but it is very evident that Jackson needs to refine his control of his curveball.  Make no mistake the key is the curveball, his fastball is very good (91-97).
If he commands that then I would fully expect Jackson to improve that walk rate.   Many times a pitcher’s margin of error is greatly decreased when only their FB is working.  What is impressive is that despite his breaking pitch inconsistencies he has not been hit very hard.  If his curveball develops the kind of consistency I think it can then that walk rate will quickly drop.  If it does not then the Rangers still probably have a very good to elite level setup guy which still has value.

If you are in the metroplex I would strongly recommend going to a lot of Frisco games.  They will have a very good staff this year to go along with an IF anchored by Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor.  Come out and watch an excellent prospect-laden team.  
Michael Cave is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. You can reach him at or on Twitter @MichaelCave15.
Michael Cave

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