When Washington signed right-hander Edwin Jackson in February barely two weeks before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, it was a bit of a surprise. Jackson had been looking for a high-dollar, multiyear deal but signed with the Nationals for one year at $11 million. He 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 31 starts split between the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis the season before. At 28, he was already a journeyman, with a 60-60 record over 10 seasons (six clubs) and an ERA hovering around 4.50.
It was a lot of money for a .500 pitcher, but scouts were virtually unanimous in their praise: electric stuff, a great teammate and a genuine innings eater. No pressure, either -- he was to be the Nats' No. 4 starter.
Thirty-one starts later, the Nationals found out who Jackson really was: a .500 pitcher with a 4-plus ERA.
On the heels of Washington's epic meltdown in Friday's NLDS finale -- a game that saw Jackson make a shaky relief appearance two days after a shakier start -- many fans are asking themselves whether he was worth it.
Jackson was a great teammate and at times was absolutely dominating. On the whole, however, he only met the criteria for a quality start (allowing no more than three earned runs in at least six innings) in 17 of his 31 starts. He made it through at least six innings 18 times. His salary made him the highest paid pitcher on the staff, which was unusual for a fourth starter, but a great value? Your call.
Measure Jackson's results against the 2011 numbers compiled by the man he replaced in the rotation, left-hander John Lannan. A year younger than Jackson and not one whose stuff has ever really been defined as "electric," John was 10-13 for Washington in 2011, leading the staff in wins and in innings pitched (1842Ú3, five fewer than Jackson in 2012). He made 33 starts, tied for fourth in the NL, and turned in a solid 3.70 ERA (Jackson's was 4.03 in 2012).
Nats management attempted to trade Lannan after he achieved a $5 million salary through arbitration, but they were not offered what they perceived as fair value. They stashed Lannan at Syracuse as insurance for the day they shut down Stephen Strasburg. He responded, going 4-1 in six starts, including a clutch win over Atlanta in July when the Braves had pulled within 11Ú2 games.
Jackson was part of a rotation that featured a quintet of hard throwers. Lannan is a groundball pitcher with an average big league fastball. Is it fair to postulate than Lannan at the very least could have duplicated Jackson's 2012 stats had he been given the opportunity? Sure. Is it also fair to assume that Jackson won't get a multi-year, high-dollar deal from the Nationals? I think so.
There were 15 to 20 additional scouts in attendance at Jackson's final couple of home starts. He will have plenty of offers this winter, but will the Nats go all-in to keep him? I seriously doubt it.
Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.