What to do with struggling Edwin Jackson?

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
7:56
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST.LOUIS -- It might be premature right now, but the time could be approaching for the Chicago Cubs to consider doing something with pitcher Edwin Jackson besides letting him start a game every five days.

He has picked up where he left off last season, and that’s not a good thing.

“I feel like it’s better [than last year],” Jackson said after losing to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday. “It’s just a matter of a pitch here or there. I feel good. I feel like I’m in a rhythm.”

[+] EnlargeEdwin Jackson
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesCubs starting pitcher Edwin Jackson has started this season like he played last year, and there's not much upside to that.
However, Jackson’s stuff simply isn’t good enough for a starting pitcher right now. Even if he’s not getting rocked when he takes the mound, he’s still not fooling anyone, either.

Bat is hitting ball and the contact is enough to make things happen for the opposition. He went six innings giving up four runs on eight hits and four walks on Sunday. And that was a good day for him. His ERA actually went down.

On the days he doesn’t have his control, it’s even worse. He gave up one lead, then gave another one back to the Cardinals after the Cubs tied it.

“It doesn’t matter,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said in trying to defend Jackson. “He went out there and grinded it out. We’re still today in a limited bullpen situation, and he ate up some innings for us. And I think all things being equal, he kept us in the ballgame.”

That’s probably not going to sit well with Cubs fans, because six innings of four-run ball isn’t exactly exemplary stuff.

Former Cubs manager Dale Sveum used to say that struggling players eventually will play to the back of their baseball card. Meaning that over time, a player’s production -- especially for a veteran with a résumé -- will lead back to his career numbers.

But that sentiment doesn’t account for aging and wear and tear on a pitcher’s arm. Or the notion that the more money a player has made the less potential motivation he might have.

Who knows the reasons, but the bottom line is Jackson was an average major league starter before his struggles.

Now, it seems, he barely gives his team a chance.

Consider:

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jackson has a strike rate of 61 percent going back to the beginning of last year. That ranks 88th out of 92 pitchers that qualify for the category. Is there anything more important for the foundation of a pitcher than throwing strikes?

“It’s early in the season and clearly you want to get off to a good start; we haven’t been able to do that,” Jackson said. “It’s a pitch here or there.”

It’s actually been a year and three starts of frustration for Jackson. So what to do with him?

The angriest of fans would say release him. But that’s not how it works when a guy is owed nearly $33 million. The better solution is to send him to the bullpen. That’s not unheard of for players of his stature and contract.

Carlos Zambrano was banished to the pen with the Cubs in 2010 and again with the Marlins in 2012. Barry Zito pitched in relief during his time with the San Francisco Giants after signing a monster contract. Roy Oswalt was demoted, as was Ryan Dempster and Phil Hughes. They were all at varying degrees in their careers and contracts, but the point is, it happens.

At some point, trade value and earning a big paycheck have to take a back seat to common sense and doing what’s right -- not just for the fans but for the team.

Jackson is going to cash his paycheck whether he starts or relieves, so doing what’s best for the squad is the best option.

It might be early in the season, but the Cubs need to start thinking of ways to mitigate a disastrous free agent signing.

As everyone knows, this isn’t about three starts in 2014; this is about 34 starts since Jackson came to the Cubs.

They could use a long man with Carlos Villanueva still in the rotation. And even when Jake Arrieta returns from injury, the Cubs could go with 13 pitchers on the staff and 12 position players. The versatility of Emilio Bonifacio allows for it. That way they can hide Jackson even more if that’s what they wanted.

Obviously Jackson’s contract plays a big part in these types of decisions. But the Cubs can’t really believe Chris Rusin or even Kyle Hendricks couldn’t do better than Jackson right now.

There’s one way to find out.

Jesse Rogers | email

Chicago Cubs beat reporter
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167