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Getting to Know Braves Closer Luke Jackson

In a 2019 season that has started with so many bullpens struggling (and yes, Craig Kimbrel still unemployed to this date), we still have relievers that have been brilliant thus far, some of them more surprising than others. That category of the surprising includes our guy, Luke Jackson.

Jackson, a 27-year-old righty from Fort Lauderdale, is in his third season with the Braves. He might go unnoticed if: a) one does not watch Atlanta much or b) one only looks at the current leaderboards in most metrics. By traditional stats, for example, he barely cracks the top 100 relievers in ERA (a three-run ninth on Tuesday in San Francisco took him away from the top 50) and is well below Kirby Yates’ 20 saves. As we move to advanced metrics, we see him climb higher, though still far from the leaders. His 2.24 xFIP ranks him eighth in the big leagues but well below Josh Hader’s 1.59 that currently leads the NL. While we are still early in the season and a few bad outings could hamper his (or any reliever’s) numbers, Jackson deserves to be looked at, mostly because he is changing Braves fans’ opinion from “this guy again?” to a growing sensation of security when he comes up to pitch. And that has not gone unnoticed for Brian Snitker, to whom he has now become the closer and the guy who handles most of high-leverage situations.

After a spring training that included two awful outings against the Astros and Red Sox, Jackson cracked the Opening Day roster and saw action on March 28th, on the first game of an opening series that was a catastrophe for the Braves, and especially for the bullpen. He entered to pitch the 6th inning with Atlanta trailing Philadelphia 6-3, and less than twenty pitches later, the game was as good as lost. A walk and a throwing error of his own set up the frame. The Braves intentionally walked Bryce Harper, and behind him, Rhys Hoskins hit a grand slam that put the final nail in the coffin. Twenty-two appearances later, the only extra bases he has allowed are a homer by David Peralta (who has been mashing against the Braves) and three doubles, and most importantly, he has allowed only five runs, three of them in that blown save earlier this week. Despite that, he holds a 1.80 ERA if we take out his horrid season debut.

Why so much attention on a pitcher that so far has shown nothing else than a great start to the season after more than 100 career innings of subpar pitching? Because this season is the best he has had since his debut in the big leagues with the Texas Rangers back in 2015, and this stretch (which included 14 appearances without allowing a run) already accounts for hist best one in The Show. Thus, it sure would be nice to (at least try to) analyze why. Read the rest of this entry »