The Braves enter the 2022 regular season with one of the best (if not the best) bullpens in the sport, as several key members from last year’s World Series team return plus a few offseason additions like Collin McHugh, Kenley Jansen and Kirby Yates. However, that dominant group just took a hit when it was reported on Saturday that righty Luke Jackson received some bad news following an MRI exam.
Jackson, who’s entering his sixth big league season with the Braves, hasn’t pitched at all this spring due to elbow tightness, which resulted in the aforementioned MRI. Unfortunately, our worst fear is true: Jackson apparently has a damaged ulnar collateral ligament (or UCL) in his right arm, an ailment that could cause him to miss a substantial amount of time in 2022. As you see in the tweet above, Jackson will “undergo a comprehensive evaluation to determine next steps”.
In terms of possible scenarios for Jackson, it’s hard to speculate without exact knowledge of the extent of his injury. The term “damage” could mean a strain, a small or major tear, or even a rupture, and each one of those severities could result in differing IL stints. A strain that doesn’t cause surgery could keep Jackson off the mound for anywhere to a few weeks or a few months. A tear or rupture would likely result in surgery, which in turn, could probably keep Jackson sidelined all season. We won’t know until the team releases more details.
Either way, it’s definitely bad timing for the 30-year-old Jackson, who’s coming off a rebound performance in 2021. Following a down year during the shortened 2020 season, featuring a bloated 6.84 ERA in 19 games, Jackson wound up becoming a consistent force in Atlanta’s bullpen in its World Series run. Overall last year, he pitched to a career-best 1.98 ERA in a career-high 71 games, and his 0.6 WAR at season’s end was his best mark since he was the Braves primary closer in 2019. Jackson’s fastball/slider combo was filthy in 2021, and according to FanGraphs Pitch Values, the latter offering was among the ten best sliders in the game, as opposing batters hit just .170 against the pitch, to go with a middling 44 wRC+.
Hopefully additional details will be positive for Jackson. The 2022 campaign is the righty’s final season of arbitration, and barring some kind of extension from the Braves, next winter he’ll become a free agent.