Is Edwin Jackson The Most Underrated Pitcher In Baseball?

Un - der - ra - ted (adverb)

-Something or someone that deserves more respect than people will allow.

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We recently found out that Scott Boras met with the Yankees to discuss Edwin Jackson. The details of this meeting have yet to be released, so it's impossible to say whether this was simply a matter of fulfilling everybody's due diligence, or if there is legitimate interest on the Yankees' part.

The reaction to this news here on Pinstripe Alley was mixed, which really doesn't come as much of a surprise, but after taking a closer look, it seems that Edwin Jackson is certainly a candidate for the title of most underrated pitcher in baseball, if not the outright winner. He's not an ace, but he is better than people give him credit for, actually quite a bit better. A quick scan of the Fangraphs leaderboards shows that since the beginning of the 2009 season, he ranks 20th among starting pitchers in total WAR and 17th in innings, ahead of guys like Josh Beckett, Mark Buerhle, and Roy Oswalt. His ERA and FIP over that time have been a solid 7-8% better than league average over that time as well.

For somebody heading into his age-28 season with these kind of numbers and no history of injuries, the tepid interest from both the Yankees and the rest of baseball is rather suprising. Jackson has been traded so many times, six to be exact, in the past four seasons that some teams must sense trouble, but with no injury history or reputation as a bad clubhouse guy, I don't know how much water this explanation really holds. Furthermore, while GMs are certainly put off by his agent Scott Boras, most of them swallow their pride and eventually get down to business if they like one of the players he represents, so that explanation goes out the window as well.

Edwin Jackson is not an ace, but he'd instantly become the Yankees second-best starting pitcher given his age and recent history. He's at least as good as Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda, but he's young enough that he should be able to sustain that success for a few seasons. GMs and owners accross baseball might not aspire to having him as their de facto #2, but in the absence of a real number #2, Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners should realize that they could do much worse.

Even something as long and expensive as a 4 year/$48 million contact would only take Jackson through his age-31 season, and with 5% salary inflation, he'd only need to put up about 9 fWAR to be worth the contract. Based on his recent performance, there's a pretty good chance he'd actually provide the Yankees surplus value over the life of the deal - how many times do we get to say that about a multi-year free agent contract?

Clearly, the unknown variable here is the status of the 2014 payroll, but if the Yankees truly intend to stay beneath the luxury tax threshold, they're going to need to get surplus value somewhere. Jackson is likely to provide that at a salary which shouldn't take up more than 6-7% of the $189 million threshold, and he's far more of a sure thing than any other pitcher besides CC Sabathia that's currently in the organization.

I don't see the downside here.

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