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The Emergence of Edwin Jackson

September 6, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 4 Comments

It took Edwin Jackson longer to develop than your typical top pitching prospect, but this year he’s finally emerged as the front of the rotation starter many scouts projected him to be four years ago.

So I thought it would be a good idea to explore Edwin Jackson’s mechanics, find things that help him produce mid – upper 90′s heat as well as look for any mechanical changes he’s made over the years.

Let’s look at the current version of Jackson. The pitch below is a 96 mph rising fastball…

edwin-jackson
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Tempo

Jackson’s tempo is pretty average, coming out around 24 or 25 frames. Tempo is typically correlated with better velocity, but a fast tempo is not always needed.

Positioning

I want you to notice how Jackson’s positions his body toward the hitter. Not that you can tell in the clip above, but the back foot is positioned inward, which allows him to better lead with his hips.

Jackson’s left shoulder is turned slightly inward, which serves a couple purposes. One, it helps hide the ball, making it tougher for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. Second, it’s an extra twist, a little more torque to his body and leads to a more explosive rotation of the hips.

Lower Body

Jackson uses what I call a “kick-out”. He extends that front leg out and then around, leading to a forceful hip rotation. The timing of this kick out is extremely important.

Arm Action

Jackson breaks his hands relatively late. Notice how the torso bends as the hands break. This is Jackson pre-loading the thorax (the chest).

Now, the arm progresses through its arm circle and is timed with the action of the lower body. As the front leg sweeps around into foot plant, Jackson’s torso pops back up, with the chest puffed out and the back arched. This is a result of the process of keeping the front shoulder closed as the hips open and a result of scap loading — which is the pinching together of the shoulder blades.

The below clip gives you a really good illustration of what scap loading is. The arm is loaded toward first base and the shoulder blades are pinched together. The arch I believe provides for a greater range of motion and as a result the muscles and tendons in the shoulder region are stretched. Around the time the front foot plants, the torso is uncoiled forward, bringing the arm with it.

edwin-jackson-scap-load
*Credit to jamessutherland23

I pause the clip just to give you an idea of the kind of torque Jackson is able to generate as well as a clear shot of Jackson scap loading. Notice how Jackson doesn’t pause his arm action when he reaches that L position. He throws through it. Some will note that Jackson’s arm is a little late to the party. But he isn’t much different from other hard throwers throughout baseball. Guys like Jackson have the arm speed to make up for any problems with timing. In reality, good timing is subjective and based on the individual talent at hand.

Given the type of velocity Jackson produces, of course there is a higher risk of injury. He’s pushing his arm to the max, but for a guy that throws as hard as he does, his mechanics are very smooth.

Lastly, watch how Jackson unpinches the shoulder blades and firms up his front side, keeping the front shoulder from flying open as the arm rotates into release.

Jackson’s front side mechanics are something I’ve suspected he’s changed over the years, but I wasn’t able to confirm it until I got a hold of a couple of necessary clips. On the left is Jackson in 2008 and on the right is Jackson in 2009.

edwin-jackson-2008edwin-jackson-2009
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media and to jamessutherland23

Notice how the glove is a bit higher in 2009, while it hovers down by the side of his knee in 2008. I think this has contributed to Jackson’s improved control this year.

The other changes made by Jackson over the years have been subtle and aren’t really worth showing tape of. We’re talking about better consistency, better timing. The biggest thing was probably the compactness of his delivery. He’s more compact and together in 2009 with everything centered around his core. His delivery looks a little more athletic than the delivery he had in 2005.

Jackson has gradually improved over the course of his career and it has finally culminated into this year’s breakout season. The stuff has always been there, but the consistency has not. As Jackson has become more consistent and experienced over time, the numbers have reflected his progress and because of this, it’s hard to classify Jackson’s year as anything but real.

*Edited on 12-8-09 – I do want to point out that Jackson is due for some regression. Why? His BABIP was .281. Expect that to increase. His LOB (left on base) percentage was 76.7%. Expect that to decrease (average is typically around 70%). He’s become much more of a fly ball pitcher the past couple years, which has led to an increase in his HR-rate. He’s not a No. 1 starter, but I think he can be a weak No. 2 or a strong No. 3, posting around a 4.00 – 4.30 ERA next year. That for me constitutes a breakout.

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  • 4 Comments »

    • links for 2009-09-07 said:

      [...] The Emergence of Edwin Jackson A mechanical look at Edwin Jackson. [...]

    • blackoutyears said:

      Great stuff, Alex. Like many I’ve followed Jackson since his Double-A breakout and the notorious b-day start against Randy Johnson years ago. It has been a long road, but, as you note, Jackson is athletic as a former position prospect, and now he’s learned how to pitch. It’s instructive that his mechanics actually haven’t changed dramatically since last year, when he showed flashes of what he’s doing this year.

      OT: I’ve been meaning to ask if you could do a Homer Bailey write up. The mechanical changes have been documented since earlier this year, but he looks like he’s turning a corner and stringing together quality starts, so an update may be useful to others.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Thanks blackout.

      I actually looked at Bailey a few days ago and he looked different from both the 2007 and 2006 versions of himself that I used in my article last year. I’ll take another look and see if I can find what specifically is different. His velocity I’ve noticed is back to its normal levels, but his command has been way off. Even in his recent run of good starts, his command has still been spotty. Plus, it’s hard to say he’s turned a corner after just four good starts. I do think he can still be an effective pitcher at the big league level, but he’s a major long shot to become a top of the rotation starter. Too inconsistent and not enough command.

    • Blackout said:

      If you’re looking at Bailey based on numbers, it looks less promising, but in Cincinnati there’s no comparison to what he was even earlier this year. The velo is not just back, but well above average. He’s hitting 96 and 97 late in starts. It is strange that he’s not throwing the sinker that supposedly got him on track in Triple-A, but he’s able to get through games throwing mostly fastballs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Slider location is a big problem right now. I’d contend that turning the corner doesn’t mean top of the rotation, but rather simply assuming his place in a big league rotation and taking the ball every fifth day. That’s a lot more than Reds fans expected to be honest.

      Mechanically I’ve noticed that there’s a difference in how high he pulls his front leg up to his chest at the beginning of his motion as well as where his glove starts when his hands are together. He also steps and lands with more smoothness (for lack of a better word). Over all his mechanics are easier, if not radically different from last year’s.