Luke Jackson —excuse me, that would be World Series-winning setup man Luke Jackson — is a 30-year old right-handed pitcher from Fort Lauderdale. He was selected by the Rangers out of high school with the 45th overall pick in the 2010 draft, one pick after Nick Castellanos and two after Taijuan Walker, with a pick the Rangers got for losing Pudge Rodriguez in free agency.
The teenage live-armed Floridian went to the Sally League where he proceeded to rack up strikeouts but give up a few too many walks. That story would rinse and repeat for a decade. He started on the same 2012 Myrtle Beach team as Kyle Hendricks, whose 1.0 BB/9 distinguished him pretty dramatically from Luke’s 4.4 BB/9.
After a poor 2013, Luke was moved into the bullpen. And he stalled. He spent parts of 2014, 2015, and 2016 in Triple-A, where he had 149 strikeouts in 128 1/3 innings, but he also walked 5.5 men per 9, gave up more than a hit per inning, and amassed a truly unsightly 5.89 ERA. The Rangers gave him a couple of cups of coffee out of the major league pen in 2015 and 2016, but he gave up 17 runs in 18 innings there, too.
After six years in the Rangers system, the former first-rounder was 24 years old, had tossed 567 2/3 innings in the minors, and he had a 4.18 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 9.91 K/9 but only a 2.15 K/BB. The Rangers were ready to give up on him, and you would’ve, too.
(Jenkins was an RHP who had been taken exactly five picks after Jackson in the 2010 draft, and he had likewise stalled in the minors with control issues. Shortly after the trade, Tyrell was waived twice, and after 82 innings of 7.76 ERA ball in Triple-A in the Padres system, he was released. The other player the Braves sent over, Brady Feigl, was a former undrafted free agent who has spent the last two years as a spring training non-roster invitee. He hasn’t pitched in the minors since 2019 and never made the majors.)
When Luke came over, the Braves assigned him to Triple-A Gwinnett, and the light switch didn’t immediately go on. He put up a 6.29 ERA in the minors, but the Braves must have seen something they liked, as they called him up and gave him some pretty substantial major league work in garbage time, appearing in 43 major league games and recording 50 2/3 innings pitched, with 17 games finished and 0 saves. Given his recent resume, the 4.62 ERA almost seems like a pleasant surprise.
The next year, he discovered his slider.
It didn’t seem like everything changed overnight —in 139 2/3 innings in the majors in 2018, 2019, and 2020, he posted a 4.58 ERA, which seems like the same old Luke — but his FIP was just 3.54, and he really truly had turned the corner from a guy who was treading water to an authentically cromulent pitcher. And then in 2021, he was genuinely wonderful: 71 games, 63 2/3 IP, 1.98 ERA.
Thing is, he was basically the same guy. From 2018-2020, he had 11.1 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9, but a disastrous .375 BABIP, so he had a 4.58 ERA and a 3.54 FIP. In 2021, he had a 9.9 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9, but magical (though likely unsustainable) .255 BABIP, and his ERA dropped by two and a half runs, so he had a 1.98 ERA but a 3.66 FIP.
So, Luke is who he is, and he’s been this guy for about four years now, a near-eternity in bullpen terms. So we’d better appreciate him before the clock strikes midnight, as it always must.
He’s extremely useful, but occasionally maddening. He ain’t a relief ace, he’s a pretty reliable middle reliever. He’s not Jonny Venters. He’s not Noah Syndergaard, who was taken seven picks before him. But he’s had a better career than a lot of the 2010 first-rounders — at this point he’s come awfully close to matching the accomplishments of the 19th overall pick, Mike Foltynewicz — and the ring on his finger is perfect testament to all the work he’s done over a decade in the trenches.
He’s our guy, dammit, and without his work in the heat of the summer we’d never have gotten where we did. Every night, the Night Shift was ready.