Following back-to-back forgetful performances, Luke Jackson was replaced as the closer after the trade deadline. He was fresh off allowing five earned runs in his last inning pitched, and his ERA bloomed to 3.96 – the highest mark since mid-April. Despite that, Jackson had been the single most pivotal piece to Atlanta’s bullpen to that point, filling in rather effectively as Atlanta’s closer when Arodys Vizcaino went down with a season-ending injury, and A.J. Minter lost his mojo. The already flawed Braves relief core needed a savior, and they found one in Luke Jackson, but even he has to feel relieved in a new role that suits him much better.
Since the Braves acquired Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, and Chris Martin, Jackson has been at the top of his game. The sliderman has completed 12.1 innings and only surrendered two runs (1.35 ERA) while striking out 18. As a result, his ERA on the year sits at 3.41, and his K/9 innings is a career-high 12.1.
There haven’t been many more effective pitches than Luke Jackson’s gyroscopic slider, which he has thrown well over 50% of the time this season. Instead of a typical slider that has sharp horizontal movement, Jackson’s is strictly vertical, leading to a boatload of swings and misses. He’s forcing batters to chase at a 36.8% clip – well above his career average of 32.5% – and he’s striking out opponents 31.1% of the time – a career-high. His slider’s pitch value, according to FanGraphs, is a ridiculous 10.1 – the 9th best mark in the league – making it one of the deadliest sliders coming out of a relievers’ hand. Here’s a little snippet from The Hardball Times explaining why that slider is so fatal.
“He also throws the pitch hard, sitting inside the 85th percentile in the majors in slider velocity among pitchers with 50 sliders thrown. It also possesses nearly 9.5 inches more drop (98th percentile) than the average pitcher’s slider in this window of velocity. The result is a pitch with exceptional swing-and-miss numbers. His goal moving forward is to maintain the pitch’s effectiveness.”
Not to mention, Jackson’s also throwing his fastball harder than he ever has in his career, recording an average velocity of 96.1. At 28-years-old, he appears to be more than a one-year wonder. Jackson has three years left of control remaining, and the Braves should be thrilled about his progression in 2019.
Depth is what is going to make the Braves bullpen a weapon the rest of the way. Atlanta still lacks the arm at the end of the game that can overpower the most potent of lineups. However, every pitcher down the line has the attributes to fill a role. Brian Snitker is still trying to figure out what those roles should be. Jackson won’t be the closer, but he continues to show he can be trusted in high-leverage situations.