Thanks to Evan Webeck, our two-week mystery of what the San Francisco Giants planned to do with Luke Jackson once his rehab period ended has been solved:
#SFGiants reliever Luke Jackson is being activated today. He has missed the past 14 months after undergoing Tommy Kohn surgery. He gave Gabe Kapler a bottle of Yamazaki 18-year Japanese whiskey they plan to toast to after his first appearance.— Evan Webeck (@EvanWebeck) May 30, 2023
Jackson’s activation ahead of tonight’s game against the Pirates comes 14 months after Tommy John surgery and nearly 5 whole months since the Giants signed him. At the time of the signing, I compared him and the situation to John Brebbia, and it’s still apt. Brebbia missed all of 2020 due to Tommy John surgery, Jackson missed all of 2022.
The three seasons prior to both Brebbia and Jackson’s TJ surgeries were their age 27-29 seasons. Brebbia threw 175 to Jackson’s 162.2 IP. Jackson’s line should include an additional 11.1 innings pitched in the postseason (Brebbia just had 3 postseason innings — all in 2019), and, famously, he appeared in 14 of Atlanta’s 16 postseason games on their way to winning the World Series.
If you’re looking for some names to call him, here’s how Atlanta fans refer to him (thanks to our fellow SB Nation site, Battery Power):
The friendly neighborhood Sliderman. Skywalker. All Elite Luke Jackson. The Luke Jackson Experience.
Jackson had a stellar 2021 regular season, too: a 1.98 ERA in 63.2 IP with 70 K to 29 BB (220 ERA+). He needed every bit of that 2021 to bring his 3-season average close to what Brebbia did, though:
Three seasons prior to Tommy John Surgery:
JACKSON (19-21): 162.2 IP 3.60 ERA (3.59 FIP) / 196 K (10.8 K/9) / 68 BB (3.8 BB/9) 126 ERA+
JOHN BREBBIA (17-19): 175 IP 3.14 ERA (3.39 FIP) / 198 K (10.2 K/9) / 54 BB (2.8 BB/9) 131 ERA+
Now, why do I keep mentioning John Brebbia? Well, again, the Giants employed the same criteria for signing Jackson that they did Brebbia — a reliever with a solid skill set with an above average track record who fell into the right zone of value for the Giants despite needing to rehab.
It’s also John Brebbia’s 33rd birthday and I just found it amusing that the team called up his plausible replacement or algorithmic twin on his birthday. Brebbia appeared in a league-high 76 games last season, too, in part because he recovered from Tommy John fully but also because he was all green on the profile boxes the Giants love to see with their relievers.
This season — and I’m not kidding here — Brebbia profiles as an elite reliever and you have to believe it’s in part because of how the Giants have developed him (mechanics, sequencing, nutrition, etc.). They’re hoping they’re able to get 2.5 seasons of 2021 Jackson with their methodology.
In my writeup of the signing back in January, I noted that Jackson’s fastball-slider combo (95mph/2500rpm) is exactly what the Giants look for, but that in Jackson’s case, the crackdown on sticky stuff might’ve eaten into some of his effectiveness.
I bolded the foreign substance sentence because it popped out at me and when I went to look at Jackson’s Statcast for 2021 — MLB started cracking down on June 21, 2021 — I see that his slider spin rate did decline into the 2300 rpm range, but that didn’t stop him from having a great season by reliever standards (1.98 ERA in 63.2 IP, 71 appearances, despite a 3.66 FIP). He also pitched in 11 of Atlanta’s 16 postseason games on their way to the 2021 world championship.
2021 marked a career highpoint for the then-29 year old. Before that slider renaissance, he was a standard reliever — a 91 ERA+ / 4.05 FIP guy. Someone who would more comfortably fall into that league minimum to $2.5 million range the Giants had focused on before. The Giants will need him to carry over whatever improvements he made in that lab and through Tommy John rehab. If Brian Bannister’s pitching lab can survive the recent departure of Matt Daniels, then they’ve got a guy in Jackson committed to maintaining or outright improving through pitching science. A hard-throwing righty is just what the bullpen needs.
The Jackson signing (2 years, $11.5M w/ club option for 2025) is still one of the largest Farhan Zaidi has handed out in five seasons so it’s reasonable for you to think the Giants have more than modest expectations of him — though perhaps later in the season or next season. John Brebbia had a bit of a ramping up period that we saw in 2021 (5.98 ERA / 4.59 FIP in 18.1 IP), so don’t expect Jackson to hit the ground running.
His 8.31 ERA in 4.1 Triple-A innings don’t excite, but the 8 strikeouts to 4 walks does. If that fastball’s 94-95 and the slider slides, he can definitely help out. With Jackson backing up Ryan Walker and John Brebbia along with Tyler Rogers, the right side of the bullpen leading up to Camilo Doval looks solid, something we weren’t saying let alone thinking about the Giants’ relief corps just a few weeks ago.
One last thing. I was stupid and read a comment to Evan Webeck’s tweet about the news. This tweet:
$1100 bottle of whiskey. These guys have no clue.— OBird2023 (@Bird2023O) May 30, 2023
What could this mean? Was this tweeted in anger? Did they feel Webeck did not show the proper respect in describing it as “bottle of Yamazaki 18-year Japanese whiskey”? My time on the Internet has not set me up to have a generous read of this tweeter’s intentions, however. This would seem to be some sort of angryman attack on people he dislikes. How can this be one of those “ballplayers are out of touch with me, the common man?” Because it’s expensive? Because it’s Japanese? What motivated this tweet? Is this person sad? Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that love cannot drive out hate, and that sad angry people only slide in one direction until they can’t slide anymore.
Luke Jackson has chosen a very nice gift to celebrate a potential occasion that was never guaranteed. Hell, he’s not even guaranteed to get to that toast. Professional baseball chews you up and spits you out. An $1,100 bottle of whiskey is not nothing to the ballplayer, even one who’s paid millions of dollars. I just thought it was interesting that this person can’t even see past their own stink lines.
To make room for Jackson, the Giants optioned David Villar back to Sacramento and designated I don’t know who yet for assignment, but will update this post as soon as we do.
Edited to add: It’s Matt Beaty who gets DFA’d. He has an .853 OPS in 129 Triple-A plate appearances (30 games), so, he’ll find a job. What a strange year it’s been for him.