<
>

Jackson starts over in Year 2 with Cubs

PITTSBURGH -- Former Pittsburgh Pirate and San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds has begun a redemption tour. He showed up in Giants spring training camp for the first time when the Cubs played his old team in the Cactus League last month, and he was also in Pittsburgh on Monday for Opening Day, also against the Cubs.

On Wednesday night Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson begins a redemption tour of his own when he starts for the first time in 2014 against the Pirates in Game 2 of the season. No, he doesn't need to get back into the good graces of the baseball world, just a group perhaps more fickle: Cubs fans.

Jackson, 30, was the poster player for the Cubs' woes last season when he went 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA. He gave up 197 hits in 175 innings pitched. Those numbers speak for themselves. But more than just representative of the team's problems, he gave critics of the current front office ample ammunition.

The reasoning was simple. The Cubs could talk all they want about prospects and how well their scouting department has done, but none of it matters until they perform in the majors. Here was a major league player, scouted and then signed by the Cubs to a huge contract before last season (four years, $52 million) and in his first year he was a failure. And it's not like the Cubs have been signing guys to big deals all over the place. Since Theo Epstein took over, Jackson is the lone free agent to get a big-money contract.

In a moment of honesty, while being "self-critical" this past winter, Epstein admitted his possible mistake.

"Anytime you make an investment that doesn't immediately pay off, especially when you don't have tremendous freedom to make a variety of significant investments, you should be hard on yourself," Epstein said to season-ticket holders.

Just the idea of spending that kind of money at a time when the Cubs were still early in rebuilding was confusing.

"Given the situation I think we could have been more patient," Epstein said. "We could have been more in line with the plan. That said, when there is no pitching you have to find pitching."

Epstein was also quick to point out there is "a lot better ahead for Edwin Jackson." If you're so inclined to look deeper into his numbers of a season ago you can find some things that could point to a better year this time around. For example, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Jackson's BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .327 while the league average was .297. But his line drive percentage was exactly at league average (19.8 percent).

It's possible he didn't give up that many more hard-hit balls than other pitchers but was unlucky as they found the holes in the defense more often. That coincides with the fact he gave up the 11th most ground balls among starting pitchers but induced only 12 double plays. The league average was 16. Of course, this doesn't tell you how hard those ground balls were hit.

But there are plenty of stats that back up his overall bad season. Jackson's called strike rate (called strike/pitches taken) was the worst in the majors at just 27 percent. So just 27 percent of the time when a hitter took a pitch from Jackson last season it was called a strike. And of course the eye test also tells the story of Jackson in 2013, as well. If you watched him you never came away with the feeling his stuff was great. It was simply a bad season.

This spring he said all the right things about a rebound season and saved his best outing for his last when he went four scoreless innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks while giving up just one hit.

That was Friday. Wednesday starts a whole new season and a chance at redemption -- for Jackson and the front office that signed him.