Braves 2021 Player Review: Luke Jackson

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.

So they traded him to the Braves for Tyrell Jenkins —remember him? —who was a throw-in from the Cardinals in the Jason HeywardShelby Miller trade.

(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.

Congratulations, Luke!

32 thoughts on “Braves 2021 Player Review: Luke Jackson”

  1. Fingers crossed.

  2. Not holding my breath, I’m afraid, but of course talking is better than not talking. If MLB presents a proposal, I hope the MLBPA is willing to provide a quick counteroffer, rather than sitting and waiting for a while. I don’t believe the owners are negotiating in good faith. I’d like to see the players negotiate in good faith anyway. Moral high ground may not be worth much, but it’s worth something to me.

  3. @3–“bargaining in good faith” is required by the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB, the agency that administers the NLRA, offers the following explanation with examples of this obligation: https://www.nlrb.gov/about-nlrb/rights-we-protect/the-law/bargaining-in-good-faith-with-employees-union-representative#:~:text=Employers%20have%20a%20legal%20duty,agreement%20that%20has%20been%20reached.&text=Refuse%20to%20furnish%20information%20the,terms%20or%20conditions%20of%20employment.
    Read this, and prepare an essay summarizing what you learned. Or I can summarize for you:
    The Act prohibits bad-faith, surface, or piecemeal bargaining.

    Does this answer your question?

  4. In general, I’d define faith in negotiations with examples like the following:

    a) Opening
    Good faith: Approaching the negotiating table with the willingness to hear out the other side, and the willingness to explore different areas to try to find value.
    Bad faith: Approaching the negotiating table with a prejudged belief that no agreement is possible and that negotiating is a waste of time and something simply to be done for appearance’s sake.

    b) Discussing
    Good faith: Being upfront about what one wants and doesn’t want. Obviously, no negotiator should share the bottom line of what she’s willing to accept, but she should share honestly and truthfully the things she wants.
    b) Bad faith: Misleading or lying about what you want to try to force the other side’s hand, to get them to reveal something they’re willing to give up even though you have no intention of accepting any offer.

    c) Offering
    Good faith: Making a counteroffer that incorporates information that the other party has shared, representing an attempt to create an offer that will be more likely to be found acceptable than the previous offer which was shared and rejected.
    Bad faith: Making a counteroffer that ignores what the other party wants, without caring whether the other party will be any likelier to accept.

    MLB wants to steamroll the players away from the table and doesn’t have any interest in talking about anything at the table. That doesn’t strike me as good faith.

    (It looks like the NLRB link Tfloyd posted while I was typing out my comment goes to a page that’s down at the moment. Here’s the Google cache: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:vfEeHzBQLNMJ:https://www.nlrb.gov/about-nlrb/rights-we-protect/the-law/bargaining-in-good-faith-with-employees-union-representative+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us)

  5. I don’t see the owners budging until the last possible moment. They don’t want to lose money, but they will want to see how the players feel about losing money first.

  6. My favorite Brave – I have long argued with myself over this designation and its would be recipient – forty eight years of doing this each season teaches an awful lot about baseball itself, its power over you once it collectively has you hooked, how fickle is individual choice and how hard it is to desert that one guy you fell for X years ago as your all time favorite.

    I can define though the single most important characteristic he must have if he is to retain his hold on your affections. He’s vulnerable and shows it, he screws up from time to time. Don’t they all, but Luke in those moments ripped you apart. You felt awful, not for the what was going down on the scorecard but for Him, personally. It hurts, what your favorite Brave can do you, and on, and on. Today? Who knew but you thought about it so often. In painful anticipation which turned out much more often than not to be unnecessary.

    But what a climax there was to be. World Series, games 5 and 7.

    Five. We have a nice lead going into the last 3 innings. His year which Alex has just documented he had excelled in in 2021 . Bellinger up, almost immediately a huge 3 run homer, it was to win the game of course, our lead had gone. Devastation. Brutal.

    Then something literally unique happened. The Network image, so predictable, vanished and for literally one second was replaced by a shot looking up at Luke’s tortured face, as he had swung round to watch a bright yellow ball-like object heading way up in the right field heavens. It, or a representation of it, was brilliantly lit and even seemed to be shining on his face. He was devastated.

    Believe me this actually happened. Please confirm if you saw it too, that one second. My guess is it was one of those loose cannon camera people with their low slung equipment who move around all over the place. He had the instincts to react and swing round and up to it in just the right place capturing pitcher, his anguished face, the bright yellow ball illuminating perfectly as it seemed. No explanation/acknowledgment was given from the Network.

    (Did you see it? Please let us know. No alcohol if you don’t mind! )

    Back to my man Luke. Brought on to wrap up and secure game 7 and the World Series he never faltered and did just that. My man. My favorite Brave. For all time. How could you possibly beat that?

  7. Dear tfloyd,

    In reference to your article linked in the 3rd comment of today’s post about the remarkable Luke Jackson, I’d like to provide my requested essay response.

    I reviewed all of the bullet point items from the link you provided. Most of them were very easy to understand, so I appreciate you linking an article that I could handle. In the future, please make sure there are NO big words. Big words, as we all know, are from the devil.

    In reviewing the bullet points, I did not find an example of the owners not engaging in good faith negotiations. The bargaining agreement was collectively bargained under seemingly agreeable means. The owners informed the players of the lockout in a proper manner, did not attempt to bargain with the employees directly, informed the powers at be in a timely fashion, and they have made themselves available to bargain at reasonable times and reasonable intervals. They have not attempted to make any unilateral changes at any point during the collective bargaining agreement, and they are not violating any of the bullet points as they seek to agree to a new one.

    I did scour the document once more to see if it violates the National Labor Relations Act for a party to be compromised almost entirely of a-holes. However, in my second review of the document, I did not find that to be a disqualifying characteristic or a violation. Please advise.

    In summary, in my extremely qualified opinion, I have determined the owners have not violated the National Labor Relations Act. However, and while I recognize that this is not within the scope of the requested essay, I was able to determine that they are a-holes.

  8. @4, @6

    MLB wants to steamroll the players away from the table and doesn’t have any interest in talking about anything at the table. That doesn’t strike me as good faith.

    I think this is the operative sentence. What’s a “steamroll”? The owners probably feel like the players are well-compensated and treated well. I’d be inclined to agree considering I don’t have any of the toys and homes these fellas have. But I, like you, want the players to make as much as they possible can. But they’re not being steamrolled. Do we even have a list of things the players want and the owners want? Therefore, how can we even know whether or not one side or the other is “steamrolling”?

    Both sides want what they want. They’re willing to do XYZ to get it. I want the players to make as much as they can possibly make, but I have no problems with what’s going on except as a fan.

    How do my negotiations go? Both sides want what they want, and they’ll get anything they can get. Bottom line. It is RARE that that is not the case. They’ll do anything legal and borderline ethical to get it. I just had a $750K closing last week where people bickered over literally $300 because the closing was delayed exactly 2 business days. People are s***ty, whether their net worth has 3 zeroes, 6 zeroes, or 9 zeroes.

  9. Great post on Luke Jackson, Alex. Luke is my favorite reliever since O’Ventbrel, and I’ve been arguing he’s undervalued for years. He was 33rd in WPA last year and 79th since 2018. He’s 45th in reliever fWAR since 2018. I think he’s a top 60 reliever, so while not Elite(TM), he’s been one of the best relievers in baseball for now 4 years. If you give him a pass for his 2020 outlier season, then he stands out even better.

    And I think he also has a strong impact on the staff. He seems to be a genuinely good guy, other relievers seem to really like him, and Snit keeps giving that boy the ball to be the bell cow at times. Matzek, Smith, and Minter all get their deserved credit for our World Series, but we don’t win the trophy without Lukey. And he’s been so good for so long now that he’s probably going to be paid well even after he’s good, which has to be the goal of most pitchers.

  10. My wife used to run a labor union, negotiating with a consortium of competing employers, all of whom were suspicious that their fellow members were going to pay too much. (Sound familiar?) She negotiated three CBAs. Every single time, everybody yelled at everybody else, telling them they were going to be the death of the industry, for three to four months of “negotiations.” Then, one day before the contract was due to expire, they all sat in a room until 4 in the morning and came up with a memorandum of understanding that, truth be told, they could have negotiated on the first day. The people who serve on these negotiating committees have to convince their own side that they fought the good fight before succumbing to the inevitable. There is pushing at the margins, and I don’t mean to minimize it… there can still be winners and losers of a sort. But the months of negotiating before the last crunch apparently have little to do with it.
    It’s just one example, of course, but it fits what I’ve seen of MLB, except that occasionally MLB actually goes on strike.

  11. I am now so desperate for hot stove rumors that I am literally going to start making **** up, which I suppose would qualify me to be an official blogger or Twitter MLB Insider.

    On that note:

    I’ve been hearing that the Braves had a deal ready to go to trade Ozuna to the Rockies for Jon Gray, straight up, no cash involved.

    The Braves then intend to re-sign Rosario, Soler, AND Joc, with Joc playing 3 days out of five in left, right, or DH to keep the others fresh, and being a weapon off the bench on the other days, which is just all kind of important in an age of the universal DH. Team chemistry is everything, ovbviously, and took them to the World Series last year.

    The Freddie deal is all but locked, and will be announced as soon as the lockout ends. The clock ran out, but most of the details are done.

    The Braves are still actively looking for an infield super sub. My imaginary sources did not give me any names.

    All of the above is true, which I know because I am a blogger and an MLB Insider on the Twitter. Also, when I am not busy CEOing, I write fantasy for a living.

  12. Yeah, that’s a good example, and Rob, you’re right that the posturing doesn’t have to be in bad faith. But the very fact that MLB owners lie about their finances cries bad faith to me. (They could claim that no one expects to take them seriously, and hence their untruth cannot be construed as intending to mislead, but… I don’t buy that, either, particularly as their risible claims are nevertheless repeated unironically by their partisans on social media.)

    I have no experience in labor negotiations. But I’m enough of a student of baseball history to know the owners have always wished to treat players like livestock, and have never gotten over being forced to cease doing so. Their unwillingness to provide a counteroffer to the players — and to lock them out instead, and to wait a month before even scheduling a sit-down response — all comes perilously close to behavior that appears impermissible via that crib sheet above. It’s probably technically within the bounds of legality, and I surely wouldn’t know, but it’s all deeply repugnant behavior to me.

    They ought to get down to brass tacks. But due to their combination of stupidity and cupidity, they are both unwilling and unable to do so.

  13. @14 — That would have been a pretty neat trick, given that Jonathan Gray was a free agent before he signed with Texas.

    Twitter scuttlebutt is that the owners’ proposal is tinkering around the edges — minor increases to the major league minimum and some adjustments to the QO. If that was going to get it done, it would have gotten done back in November. Running back the previous system is a completely non-serious proposal.

  14. Another good example of the owners’ bad faith tactics is their repeated refusal to agree to something that they want and the players want (the universal DH, for example) in the hope that they can force the players to give up something of value to get the thing that the owners themselves actually want. Like others have said, I don’t know if that constitutes bad faith in a legal sense, but I do know that it constitutes a chickenshit tactic (and seemingly bad faith) in the world of common sense.

  15. Rob, you get an A in my course. That and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee.

    Ordinarily, in real estate and other market transactions, there is no general obligation to bargain in good faith, so long as you don’t engage in outright fraud (knowing misrepresentation of material fact). Let the buyer beware. And even then, allegations of fraud are generally made to void a contract already entered, not to force anyone to bargain to reach an agreement.

    But labor negotiations are different. I’m not an expert in Labor Law, and of course I’m not privy to the communications so far, so I don’t have an opinion as to whether the owners are currently in violation of the NLRA. But I do know that the obligations under the Act are real and enforceable. Remember that the strike in 1994-95 only ended when the federal courts found that the owners had engaged in bad faith (by, e.g., unilaterally imposing a salary cap).

    As to the course of the current baseball negotiations, I’m afraid this one will go the way they almost always do: there will be no progress until the last minute, which means that there is an excellent chance that we are facing a work stoppage that threatens the regular season. The players have are resolved to force something new, while the owners are happy with the general outlines of the last CBA.

  16. I know I’m in the minority on this, so I won’t continue to seemingly present myself as a contrarian. I simply don’t have a problem with the way the two sides are behaving. If the owners are violating the law, then they need to answer to the powers at be. But as a former slow, weak, uncoordinated ball player, I think being a big leaguer means you won the genetic lottery that’s more rewarding than the Powerball, though I absolutely admire their hard work to expound off of that. They then get paid millions of dollars to play a kid’s game, and if they can’t get a few extra bucks out of the deal, I don’t feel sorry for them. And on the other side, I don’t care if people with way too much money get even more money if they don’t break the law in doing so. “Way too much money” is a relative term anyway.

    Hopefully ball comes back soon. Go Braves.

  17. hey gang. I went to the hospital on January 1 with COVID and spent 6 days there. A little continuing lung involvement ws my major problem and I have concentrators to use to keep my O 2 up. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, “I’m doing fine, fine, without COVID, baby.”

    I mostly agree with Rob that the players are big boys too. The one thing that leans me more toward their side is the fact that essentially all of the clubs other than Braves have no published financials. I am convinced that the Forbes work on valuations and revenues has reached the point that it is extremely accurate. I believe the bottom tier of teams has some lean years from time to time, the mid tier almost always makes money (and usually a lot) and the top tier collect money like an electronic express lane pass reader.

    The fundamental issue to help move it forward to me is more revenue sharing, then how to divide between the parties.

  18. I don’t have any opinion on whether it’s morally permissible for anyone to have “too much money,” or whether there is any such thing. And there surely is no law against being a jerk. I just basically don’t think that being a jerk is okay.

  19. Cliff, I’m so sorry to hear of your bout with Covid. I hope you continue to get better and make a full recovery.

  20. @11 I think Luke’s “good guy” persona was illustrated in that outstanding article about Matzek when he wanted to bail his guy out, which was Luke. He does seem like a good dude and I share your affection for him. I think he is pretty nasty when he has it going and while he is frustrating, he has been overall pretty darn good.

  21. @26 Not to engage in any kind of coach-speak, but that’s one of those things that don’t show up in the stat sheet for Luke. His rubber arm has to also be acknowledged as a value-producing commodity as well. Snit has so much flexibility with Luke that he can throw him in back-to-back days and for multiple innings. With that said, I don’t want to pay Luke past his years of control, and he might even get too expensive for his last arb year.

  22. I like Luke a lot with two caveats: 1) no thinking he can operate as the closer again outside of a weird extra-inning game or some game where we’ve screwed up the bullpen rotation that week and are forced into it for a night or something; and 2) we have to be willing to demote him if it becomes clear that he doesn’t have it (thinking more in terms of 2020 here than a single bad outing).

    But he’s a perfectly palatable middle reliever/righty setup man. When he’s got that slider working, he can be downright nasty.

  23. Cliff, thanks for sharing that. So sorry you’ve had to deal with it. I do hope you really are doing better and that you make a full recovery.

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