While the Braves’ bullpen was largely very good during the 2020 season and 2020 postseason, not all of the relievers had banner years. After a pretty decent 2019 campaign, Luke Jackson took a pretty significant step back in 2020 and now heads towards the arbitration deadline as a potential nontender candidate. Lets look at what went right and wrong for Luke in 2020 and what we can expect going forward.
What went right? Other than the continued usage of his entertaining nickname, not much. There were some somewhat encouraging peripherals with a FIP that was over two runs better than the 6.84 ERA he posted in 2020. His 61.9% groundball rate was the highest of his career and he also saw the rate in which he gave up home runs cut in half from what was happening in 2019. Normally, these would all portend good things for a reliever. Sadly, that was not the case for Luke.
What went wrong? Well, the 6.84 ERA is a good place to start, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. After throwing more curveballs this year to the detriment of his trusty slider, which was a markedly worse pitch in 2020, Luke saw his strikeout rate plummet to 6.84 K/9 from 13.13 in 2019 and his walk rate bumped up to 4.44 BB/9. That combined with his best pitch being significantly worse and him giving up more hard contact overall was....not a good place to be. He only stranded 60.8% of the baserunners he did allow which does match up with what our eyes saw last season.
What to expect from Luke in 2021: Luke Jackson’s tenure as a Brave has been a tumultuous one. The metrics loved his work in 2019 even when his outings became adventurous, but they were far less kind when evaluating his work in 2020 which is one of the reasons why the Braves, who needed able bullpen arms for their playoff run, left him off of the postseason roster. In arbitration last year, Luke and the Braves agreed on a $1.8 million contract for the 2020 season. The Braves have already let a better reliever hit free agency this offseason rather than pay them marginally more than that in Darren O’Day. When one is looking at potential nontender candidates, Luke’s name honestly should be at the top of the list. I am sure there is a number that the Braves would be willing to bring him back for, but that may not be one that is agreeable for Luke and, despite some potential defections, the Braves don’t need him in the bullpen especially when evaluating him in the context of how he was used this year. He came into games when the outcome wasn’t in doubt and he could not be trusted with a playoff spot. That should tell you all you need to know about what the organization The best guess here is that Luke’s time with the Braves is over and he will join what I expect to be a pretty good-sized pool of new free agents that will be available after the nontender deadline.