The most underrated Braves player of the 2021 campaign

Luke Jackson

After failing to get over .500 for 109 games, somehow the Braves came out on top of the NL East for the fourth consecutive season. This team overcame a plethora of obstacles from Marcell Ozuna‘s domestic violence charge to Mike Soroka‘s torn Achilles, and of course, Ronald Acuña’s devastating season-ending knee injury. At one of several points, it would have been understandable for this team to mail it in and focus on 2022. But that’s not what this organization’s about, and thanks to several underrated contributions, the Braves were able to not only win the division, but run away with it.

If this were an actual award, there would be several potential candidates. Guys like Guillermo Heredia, Ehire Adrianza, and Kyle Muller helped the Braves right the ship when things looked bleak. They could all be considered the most underrated Braves player of 2021. Meanwhile, 37-year-old journeyman Jesse Chavez has turned into a weapon for Brian Snitker out of the bullpen. Still, nobody has brought as much to the team as the slider-man, Luke Jackson.

For years, Jackson has been among the most polarizing figures on the Braves. He was crushed by the fans when he was forced to close games in 2019, when the reality was he saved the team’s ass. Without him, Atlanta wouldn’t have won the division that season, but that’s part of the territory when you are the team’s closer. 2020, however, was a forgetful year for Jackson. He pitched to the tune of a 6.84 ERA over 26.1 innings and was left off the playoff roster each round. Because of that, Jackson wasn’t even a guarantee to make the roster coming into this season, and it was fair to wonder if he would ever pitch in a Braves uniform again. But the slider-man impressed in spring training, and the rest — as they say — is history.

Jackson made 71 appearances for the Braves, working his way into a primary set-up role. Over 63.2 innings, he allowed just 14 earned runs, resulting in a 1.98 ERA. There’s a running joke around Braves Country that Luke Jackson is elite, but it’s fair to start wondering if that really is a joke anymore. His performance is even more notable when you consider how desperately the Braves needed bullpen help, particularly from the right side.

Alex Anthopoulos probably shouldn’t have let Mark Melancon walk… at least not without replacing him. Doing so left a huge hole in Atlanta’s bullpen — one with no clear answer to fill it… until Jackson did. His performance is a significant reason why the Braves are where they are today, and he was even better in the NLDS. Brian Snitker turned to Jackson in all four games against the Brewers, and he delivered each time, holding Milwaukee scoreless over 3.1 frames while striking out three.

Like Will Smith, it’s not always pretty. Jackson often allows a baserunner or two when he comes into a game, and his FIP would tell you he’s been a little lucky this season. Is he a guy that will post another sub-2.00 ERA season? Probably not. But he’s been everything the Braves needed at the back end of their bullpen and then some. If this team expects to get to the World Series, they will need more lights out performances from the slider-man.

Thanks for reading about the most underrated Braves player of the 2021 campaign. If you liked this article, check out Chase Irle’s other piece on how Luke Jackson is helping the organization in more ways than one.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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