Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Andre Jackson has the potential to breakout next season and become an underrated part of the team's bullpen
The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired right-handed pitcher Andre Jackson from the LA Dodgers in 2023. Jackson had some ups and downs for the Bucs, and finished his season with a 4.33 ERA, 4.61 FIP, and 1.12 WHIP in 43.2 innings. But Jackson has some potential, and could be an underrated part of the Pirates’ 2024 bullpen.
The one thing the Pirates must do, and I cannot stress this enough, is only let Jackson face the order once. Jackson was not a bad pitcher for the Pirates. He was just not put in a good position to succeed multiple times. When Jackson faced the order one time, he had a 1.71 ERA, held opponents to a mere .156/.230/.233 triple-slash and .233 wOBA, only had an 8% walk rate, while having a strikeout rate at 31%. That kind of triple-slash and wOBA would look pretty good for a pitcher before the universal DH was implemented.
The second time through the order, however, Jackson had a 7.98 ERA, and batters smacked him around for a .263/.373/.596 line and .407 wOBA. In 1961 when Roger Maris set the then American League home run record, he hit .269/.372/.620, as a comparison. He had an identical 13.4% walk and strikeout rate. His home run rate went through the roof to 3.1-per-9. Sure, a 21.7% HR/FB ratio surely isn’t helping, but even accounting for a league average HR/FB ratio, his xFIP was 6.67.
He threw four pitches last year at least 6% of the time. His fastball had a +5 run value and held opponents to a .222 BA and .308 wOBA. However, his slider and curveball were next to untouchable. Batters hit just .148 with a .296 slugging percentage, and .187 wOBA against Jackson’s slider. He only used his curveball 6.5% of the time, his least used offering, but allowed just one hit, and struck out seven of the 18 batters he used it against. His change-up was by far his weakest offering, as batters squared it up for a .273 average, .566 slugging percentage, and .369 wOBA. But, if Jackson can sharpen up his change-up, or cut down the usage, he could get away with his other pitches.
Working out of the bullpen would mean he wouldn’t need to rely on the fourth offering as often. Jackson’s fastball, slider, and curveball are as effective as they are because of their active spin rate. Jackson’s fastball had a 2268 RPM, and an active spin rate of 99%, which gave it above average ride through the zone. His slider only had a 28% active spin rate, but this is where you want to see a low active spin rate. His curveball had 52.7 inches of vertical drop, and of the 252 pitchers who threw a curveball at least 50 times this year, Jackson had the 74th most vertical movement.
I honestly think that Jackson has the potential to handle high-leverage. He would have to be eased into it, but his stuff would definitely play in a high-leverage role. Just look at the comparisons Baseball Savant makes regarding the movement and velocity on Jackson’s offerings. Three of the five are Ryan Pepoit, one of the Dodgers’ best prospects going into 2023, Brandon Woodruff, and Justin Verlander, all from their 2023 season.
Jackson’s stuff is good, and showed it off when he was given the opportunity. But the Pirates stretched him way too thin last year, mostly because they went by the seat of their pants with the starting rotation in the second half. As Marty said, he cannot be a starting pitching option to open 2024. But, if they put Jackson in the bullpen, and only let him pitch 1-2 innings at a time, he will flourish.