On Tuesday afternoon the Toronto Blue Jays made an inevitable move, cutting ties with veteran pitcher and famously well-travelled journeyman Edwin Jackson.
Jackson’s departure was made inevitable by his eight-appearance tenure in Toronto. Even if he could have turned this around, there wasn’t enough time for him to rebuild any trade value and at 35 years old there wasn’t any longer-term upside. He simply had to go.
In a rebuilding year it’s not uncommon to take fliers and find stopgaps and it made sense for the Blue Jays to pluck Jackson from the Oakland Athletics. Similarly, it makes sense for them to cut bait now - even after a successful three-inning outing on Monday.
More intriguing than this rather unsurprising transaction to make room for incoming rookie starter Jacob Waguespack is the question of whether Jackson was the worst Blue Jays pitcher of all time. Or put another way, did he pitch worse as a Blue Jay than anyone else? After all, Jackson has had a fine major-league career that’s included an all-star berth and a World Series ring, among other accolades.
It depends precisely how you want to define that question - and there are plenty of ways to do it - but it appears the answer is a pretty strong ‘yes’.
There have been 270 pitchers to toss at least 20 innings for the Blue Jays since their inaugural season in 1977. Jackson ranks 270th in ERA with his unsavoury 11.12 mark. The next worst (Brad Mills at 10.08) is a full run lower. If you’re more of a believer in fielding-independent pitching metrics, his FIP of 8.96 is also worst of the bunch. The second worst of 7.43 from Ramon Ortiz in 2013 is again much lower.
With those statistics alone, you’ve got pretty close to an ironclad case, but there’s more. Even though Jackson tossed just 28.1 innings as a Blue Jays he’s close to the bottom in total value lost - even among guys who were lousy for the team for far longer.
Jackson’s FIP-based WAR of -0.8 is fourth-worst in franchise history behind legends like John Frascatore, Mike Willis, and Bill Risley. The gap between Frascatore at the top and the recently-departed Jackson is tiny at just -0.2 WAR. What makes all of that particularly silly is that the Frascatore, Willis, Risley trio pitched 126.1, 296, and 100.2 innings, respectively. Jackson was able to sap almost as much value as each in that dreadful triumvirate in far, far, fewer innings.
Each of Jackson’s comparables above actually had an OK year or two with the Blue Jays by ERA, they just had disastrous peripherals. Going by a WAR based on runs allowed, Jackson sits at -1.5 and sits beneath only Giovanni Carrara who carried a 8.20 ERA through 63.1 innings with the Blue Jays. In 1996 he had a Jacksonian 11.40 ERA in 15 innings, but it was cushioned by the slightly more human 7.21 he posted the previous year. Again, though, he pitched more than twice as many innings in Toronto than Jackson and was only -0.1 worse in WAR.
To have anyone threaten Jackson’s supremacy among Blue Jays pitching disasters, you have to look at guys who pitched far less. Perhaps you could make a case for Chad Gaudin and his 13.15 ERA in 13 innings. Maybe Matt Williams posting a -0.6 WAR in just eight innings thanks to his 12.63(!) FIP is worth a note, but realistically this is Jackson’s crown.
The Blue Jays will have to hope no one takes it from him any time soon.
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