Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson has quietly strung together a few solid starts to kick off May, and after a not-so-hot April has brought his overall numbers (3.98 ERA, 3-3 record) back to general standards of respectability. That's pretty much what the Cubs paid for when they gave him a four-year, $52 million contract two winters ago.
An optimist would look at his 1.80 ERA so far this month, the improved 8.1 K/9IP rate (vs. 6.9/K9 last year), and the fact that Jackson has only given up two home runs this year (for a 0.3/9IP rate) and think the veteran right-hander is finally turning it on. After all, his fielding-independent ERA -- what we'd expect his ERA would be given average defense and luck -- is almost a full run below his actual ERA (3.03).
We've already seen the pessimist's version of this story with Jackson before. Like back in 2009 in Detroit, when he tore through the first half of the season with a 2.52 ERA, before his K rate dropped, his hit rate soared and he was pummeled for an ERA of 5.07 the second half of the season.
Cubs fans watched it unfold last year when Jackson finished June with a 5.75 ERA, forcing laments of early buyer's remorse. Then he dominated July with a 1.83 ERA ... before being battered with a 5.74 ERA the rest of the year.
To say Jackson is streaky is an understatement, but he's also been remarkably consistent in what we can expect from his overall body of work.
Before long we can expect Jackson to give up a few more hits, including more that leave the ballpark. His strikeouts will dip a little bit, and depending on his luck, will probably finish with around 190 innings of work with an ERA between 3.75 and 4.50. Maybe a little lower if he adds another long hot streak. Maybe a little higher if he goes cold like he did the last two months of last year, or gets hung out to dry in a start or two.
And again, this is exactly what the Cubs paid for. If Jackson were likely to keep the high K rate, stop walking guys and get more groundball outs -- like, say, Cliff Lee -- he probably would have gotten $100 million as a free agent instead of what the Cubs paid.
Jackson's ability is always going to frustrate people who expect more, maybe tantalized by the dominant stretches.
Enjoy this stretch for what it is, while it lasts.