Years and years ago, the Seattle Mariners traded Matt Thornton to the Chicago White Sox. Thornton had powerful stuff, but his performance had been miserable -- albeit in limited time -- and few were sorry to see him leave. Shortly after the trade, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said he was excited about Thornton, because he'd seen some fixable flaws on video. Almost instantly, Thornton turned into one of the better relievers in the league.
So. Take Edwin Jackson. Edwin Jackson is currently a free agent. A pretty good free agent. A pretty good free agent whose agent knows he's pretty good, as Scott Boras is reportedly seeking a five-year contract. Whether Jackson actually gets a five-year contract is another matter, but he's worthy of a big deal. He's young, he's been durable, and he's been effective.
And he's been with the White Sox. Here's why I bring that up. Edwin Jackson, when he was younger, developed something of a reputation. He was inconsistent. He couldn't harness his stuff. He was just another intriguing young pitcher whose numbers didn't match his raw talent. He had his bright points -- his 2009 campaign with the Detroit Tigers was solid -- but at other points he struggled, and he got off to a difficult start in 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Then, on July 30, he was traded to the White Sox for Daniel Hudson and a prospect. In his first start with his new team, he allowed a run in seven innings, with a walk and six strikeouts. Afterward, he credited Don Cooper. ESPN:
Chicago White Sox right-hander Edwin Jackson credited pitching coach Don Cooper on Thursday for making a minor adjustment that produced big results in Jackson's debut with his new team.
"It was just a matter of standing tall and not collapsing on my back side, which allows me to be more around the plate, and have a better angle on the ball [...] It wasn't like a major mechanical thing. It was something small, which normally it is."
Cooper had some tweaks he wanted to make with Jackson. He made them, and Jackson flourished. He was strong the rest of the way, and he carried most of his gains into 2011.
There's an easy way of looking at this. Jackson has been a regular major league starter since 2007. We can compare his numbers before the 2010 trade to his numbers after the 2010 trade. Some of those numbers are shown below:
The best strike rate Jackson had posted before the trade was 62.8%, in 2009. Since the trade, he's been consistently better than that, and though the difference seems small, it's big enough to matter. Look at that reduction in walks. Jackson's commanded the ball a little bit better, which has made him a little bit better. Or a lot better, depending on how you look at things.
What we can't do is automatically chalk this up to Cooper's involvement. It could be a coincidence, or something else. But the Cooper explanation fits, and it wouldn't be the first time that Cooper helped a troubled pitcher improve. We still don't really have any idea what we're doing when it comes to hitting coaches, but with pitching coaches, we can observe successes.
Jackson's numbers since getting traded to Chicago have been terrific, and his strike and contact rates kept up after getting dealt to St. Louis last July. One can wonder how permanent this improvement might be, and whether Jackson might regress as he moves forward, but the more that I look at Edwin Jackson, the more I like him. Like him enough to think he's worth a five-year contract? Ehhh. But Edwin Jackson is better than the reputation he's working to shed.