Braves: Watching Luke Jackson pitch this season has been stressful  

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The weekend was started just right as the Braves picked up its second-straight win on Friday when they defeated the Diamondbacks 5-4. Atlanta’s starter Huascar Ynoa bounced back nicely from his last time out and pitched a strong six innings; third baseman Austin Riley tallied another home run and appears to be seeing the ball better; and to top it off, poor Ozzie Albies finally had some hard-hit balls go his way as he ended the night 2 for 4 with a homer and a double. As you can see, there were several highlights for the Braves on Friday. And, of course, a win is always good.

But something else happened in Friday’s Braves-D’Backs contest: reliever Luke Jackson once again made the Braves victory look much harder than it needed to be. 

Jackson entered Friday’s game in the top of the 7th, immediately following Ynoa’s solid outing, with Atlanta leading 4-2; not a massive lead that constitutes as a sure-fire win, but versus a middle of the road offense such as Arizona’s, it certainly wasn’t the most difficult task of the season for the 29-year-old righty. 

But here was the sequence of events for Jackson in that inning…

  • Single to left field
  • Walk 
  • Force-out 
  • Line-out
  • Double 

As shown above, Jackson lasted just ⅔ of an inning and failed to get the Braves out of the 7th (Tyler Matzek came in and finished the job), allowing one run from two hits and a walk and quickly shrinking Atlanta’s two-run lead to just one, which of course was made worse given the damage was done with two outs. When watching the Braves live, it’s these moments that usually cause random screaming at the TV. Jackson can be frustrating!

Now, admittedly this particular outing for Jackson was probably his second-worst of the 2021 season thus far, so I’m not being very fair by cherry-picking this appearance. However, despite him actually posting solid numbers, this type of pull-your-hair-out performance has been a common occurrence for Jackson. In fact, it’s actually pretty crazy what he’s doing this season, seemingly flirting with disaster every time out.

A quick glance at Jackson’s stats this season, and you’d probably say sure… he’s pitched pretty well so far. The former 45th-overall draft pick currently sports a strong 1.29 ERA to go with a 1-0 record, two holds, and six strikeouts in seven innings. Not too shabby. However, dig a little deeper… and it makes you think, “wow, how is he even still in the Braves bullpen?!”

Of Jackson’s eight relief appearances in 2021, five have featured at least one walk, while all of them have included at least one baserunner in general, which so far has allowed him to execute only one three up-and-three down inning (and that was from a double-play ball). All-in-all, so far, Jackson is averaging 4.25 batters-faced per inning, though when you count only the outings in which he started and finished the frame… that number rises to 4.57. That’s not what the Braves need out of their relievers, whose main priority is quickly getting outs, especially when the team has a lead. 

It’s obviously way too early in the season to freak out, and attempting to determine exactly why seemingly all of Jackson’s outings this year are giving us heart problems is probably not an effective way to spend one’s time. But — other than the obvious issues with walks and terrible sequencing — when parsing through his Statcast numbers, it appears Jackson is living on borrowed time with his bread and butter slider. The pitch is why he ranks in the 88th-percentile in whiff% (33.2%) right now, and it’s allowing just a .200 AVG from opposing batters. However, Jackson’s slider is over-performing a good bit as it’s allowing only a .295 wOBA but a bloated .403 xwOBA; that 105-point difference gives him an expected AVG allowed of .270.

Ironically, Jackson’s slide-piece this season has actually featured 2 ½ inches more vertical break, a characteristic you’d think would make the pitch more effective. However, I’m definitely not a pitching coach or someone who has any idea of what makes a slider better or worse. 

Of course, Jackson’s performance so far can be filed in the SSS category, just like pretty much everything weird currently happening this season. But man, is it stressful to watch him pitch right now. Hopefully, Jackson’s outings will involve a lot fewer baserunners… and less heartache.


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