It’s Opening Day. The Philadelphia Phillies are riding high on their offseason acquisition of Bryce Harper. The Citizens Bank Park crowd is surging with… shall we call them “vocal” fans. The visiting Atlanta Braves are attempting to mount a late game rally, down 6-1 going into the seventh inning… and in comes Luke Jackson, shouldering his 4.43 ERA from a disappointing 2018 season.
Not-so-cool-hand Luke proceeded to warrant the groans from Braves’ fans, giving up two walks and two hits in the tumultuous inning, including Major League Baseball’s first grand slam of the season off the bat of Rhys Hoskins. And yet… as of this writing, Jackson went into his last appearance (May 21 against the San Francisco Giants) with a 2.31 ERA, along with a 2.79 FIP, 2.48 xFIP, an immaculate 11.57 K/9, and currently has a firm grip on the Braves closer gig. So, what happened?
Maybe fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the 27-year-old Jackson is no stranger to turmoil. Dating back to December 2017, he has been designated for assignment five (!!) times. After the most recent instance – June 16, 2018 – Jackson actually elected free agency rather than trekking back down to Triple-A Gwinnett. However, after speaking with several other teams, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos instilled a confidence in Jackson that there still remained an important role in Atlanta’s bullpen for him.
Coming into the season with a career 5.19 ERA, 1.582 WHIP, and one save over the span of 93 career appearances between the Braves and Texas Rangers, it admittedly seemed curious that Anthopoulos and manager Brian Snitker would continue to trot Jackson out onto the mound in a season where the Braves are defending their National League East title.
Fast forward to today, and Jackson continues to prove the doubters wrong. Coming off two consecutive two-inning successful save opportunities – giving him six saves on the season – his peripherals seem to indicate the success will continue. Sporting a shiny 71.4 groundball percentage, he has his much-improved slider to thank. Dubbed “The Friendly Neighborhood Slider-Man” by the bullpen – and comically explained by Peter Moylan, as seen below – Jackson has provided some much-needed stability to the backend of a shaky Braves bullpen.