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The Royals Should Sign Edwin Jackson

Kings of Kauffman Senior Editor Michael Engel sent out a tweet Saturday that echoes my personal belief. His tweet read:

I think I've turned a complete 180 on Edwin Jackson. From fearing they'd sign him to now thinking they should (but won't).

Offline, I argue with most who will listen that Edwin Jackson is a great fit for the Royals, and helps the Royals compete next year and in the future. With each day that passes that Jackson seems to get no attention on the free agent-market, I only become more convinced that singing the right-hander could benefit the Royals greatly. Jeff made a table of his career numbers in an earlier post.

2006 Devil Rays 23 1 36.1 6.7 6.2 0.5 0.336 52% 5.4% 5.45 4.52 5.24 0.2
2007 Devil Rays 32 31 161.0 7.2 4.9 1.1 0.341 45% 10.2% 5.76 4.90 4.82 1.5
2008 Rays 32 31 183.1 5.3 3.8 1.1 0.302 39% 9.6% 4.42 4.88 4.97 1.3
2009 Tigers 33 33 214.0 6.8 2.9 1.1 0.276 39% 9.9% 3.62 4.28 4.32 3.6
2010 2 Teams 32 32 209.1 7.8 3.4 0.9 0.313 49% 10.6% 4.47 3.86 3.71 3.8
2011 2 Teams 32 31 199.2 6.7 2.8 0.7 0.330 44% 8.2% 3.79 3.55 3.73 3.8

3.8 WAR would have led the Royals starters last season, and I think it is likely that it will lead the Royals starters next season as well. Jackson represents a clear improvement over almost all of the Royals projected starters next season and is still available in free agency.

At first blush, it seems hard to believe that Edwin Jackson, he of the eight-walk no hitter, really would be the Royals best pitcher next season. Thankfully, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs wrote a post comparing him to John Danks, someone I expect more Royals fans would accept as being a better pitcher than the Royals current starters. Cameron's table shows that the two have pitched at similar levels over the last three seasons.

Name BB% K% GB% ERA- FIP- xFIP-
Edwin Jackson 7.9 18.5 44.0 93 92 95
John Danks 7.7 18.2 44.5 90 92 96

The two pitchers skill sets are very different, but both yield similar results. Danks just inked a five year, $65 million extension, showing the White Sox appreciate a pitcher with these results. Yet Jackson continues to be readily available in free-agency. Reports leaked out Monday claiming Jackson is holding out for a five year, $60 million deal, and the general reaction on Twitter seemed to be condescending. While it might be tough for the Royals to fit that contract in their payroll, Jackson certainly may be worth the contract. Over the last three seasons, the starter has provided $48.5 million dollars worth of value. While the proposed contract leaves little margin for error, Jackson certainly has every right to ask for it. Those that think the proposed contract is outrageous are not properly valuing Jackson's worth.

Part of the reason Jackson appears to be undervalued by fans and general managers is his rocky start to his career. The 5.45 and 5.76 ERA for the Devil Rays in 06 and 07 certainly are tough to look at, and he had a career ERA of 5.50 in 75.1 innings for the Dodgers. While those years cannot be completely ignored, those numbers were posted when Jackson was young and arguably not ready for major leagues. His more recent numbers are much stronger indicator on what the Royals could expect from Jackson, especially since he has posted them over 623 innings.

Another part of the Edwin Jackson narrative is that he is inconsistent, making him less desirable than a pitcher like Danks. Cameron also discredits this belief in the comments of his post by looking at their Game Scores, a metric designed by Bill James to give an estimation of how well a pitcher performed. Cameron wrote:

Their average game scores for 2011 were nearly identical – 50.77 for Jackson, 50.67 for Danks. The average standard deviation for Danks was 18.61, much higher than Jackson’s 15.6. This suggests that Jackson was actually more consistent than Danks last year.

Narratives are powerful, but evidence is telling. Edwin Jackson is a young, above-average starting pitcher readily available in free agency. None of the Royals prospects need to be surrendered for the Royals to acquire Jackson and unless the Royals make an unforseen blockbuster trade, Jackson likely will give the Royals similar production to any pitcher the Royals might trade for. If the Royals are serious about making noise in the division next season, adding another quality pitcher seems more like a necessity than a luxury from where I am sitting.

If the Royals sign Jackson, I still do not know if I believe they possess a realistic shot to win the division. I do believe that Jackson does push this team closer next season, and because he is only 28 years old, he can be apart of future teams more likely to contend than the 2012 one. It appears that no teams are buying Jackson at 5 years, $60 million dollars (which I understand, even I think he would give a team $60 million dollars worth of value. Those first yeas cannot be completely ignored, and teams should always leave margin for error), giving the Royals a chance to get creative with a contract. I do not know if 4/48 with a club option for a fifth year that pushes the total to 5/60 could get the job done, or more money per season like 4/52 could lure Jackson, but I hope the Royals are trying. Jackson is a great fit for what the Royals still need in 2012.