The question most often asked when people talk about Edwin Jackson is why has he been on so many teams. The Nats will be Jackson’s eighth team in his nine year career, and the reason is simple. Jackson has never cost much and always had top of the rotation stuff with back of the rotation results. Every new team that gets him believes they can be the ones that can finally unlock all that potential and the team getting rid of him was just tired of waiting.
The interesting thing about the one year $10 million contract that Jackson signed with the Nationals is that it is in line more with Jackson’s results than his potential, and Jackson was more than willing to take a one year deal in order to have a career year and cash in next off-season. The late Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson once said, “Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win a pennant every year.”
With Edwin Jackson the Nats get one highly motivated pitcher that can’t wait to prove his value to the world. The Nats rotation has a lot of ifs but those ifs have evolved a lot in the last few years. No longer are the Nats hoping for the health of John Patterson or Shawn Hill or that a surprise can be found among a bunch of minor league free agents. The Nats have a legitimate major league rotation, and perhaps something even better.
In 2011 eleven Nats starters combined for 928 2/3 IP and 10.7 WAR. The projected starting five of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Jackson, and Wang project to pitch 889 innings with 16.4 WAR. That does leave a few innings to be picked up by Gorzelanny, Detwiler, Stammen, Maya, or Lannan if he isn’t traded, but the WAR value improvement even with just those five is almost six wins better than 2011. This would give the Nats a mid-80’s win total and put them in arms reach of a wild card if they can find any offense.
The Nats have yet to add that ever elusive center fielder, but there are a few simple ways in which the Nats offense could be better in 2012 than it was in 2011. The first and most important is for the Nats to get at least 140 games out of Ryan Zimmerman. In 2009 and 2010 Zimmerman was an over 7.0 WAR player and won the silver slugger for third basemen both seasons. In 2011 Zimmerman played 101 games and was worth 2.5 WAR if Zimmerman can return to being Zimmerman then that alone gives the Nats an increase of four to five wins.
Then there is the big free agent signing of December of 2010, Jayson Werth. Werth had a bad year in 2011, but improved in the second half under Davey Johnson. Johnson put Werth back in his customary five spot in the line-up and made an effort to work with Jayson on his swing. There were rumors out there that Riggleman had lost the clubhouse before he quit and one of the main players behind that was Jayson Werth. If Werth can improve even by one win it would help the Nats greatly.
The last major thing to go wrong for the Nats in 2011 was the Spring Training injury to the shoulder of Adam LaRoche. LaRoche has never been a great player but he has never been a bad one either. He is essentially a league average first baseman. He will hit 25 homers and get on base at a steady clip, but he isn’t going to blow anyone away with his power or on base skills. His biggest attribute is his defense at first base. Think of LaRoche in this way as to how he will improve the 2012 Nats; he is a better hitter than Nix and a better fielder than Morse, and all of that is worth roughly one win in the standings.
If even one of those three things happen in 2012 then the Nats offense will improve. If more than one of them happen then the Nats could surprise a lot of people. The addition of Edwin Jackson on his own doesn’t make the Nats contenders, but it adds to what they have already done this off-season. One of the biggest issues the Nats had with starting pitching in 2011 was innings pitched by starters. Too often the bullpen was being asked to get 10 to 12 outs. Edwin Jackson for his career has averaged 195 innings pitched a season and 5.99 innings pitched a start. Add this to the 200 innings that Gio Gonzalez is projected to give the Nats and it is easy to see the value Jackson brings to the Nationals rotation.