Expect results to improve for Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad

As some of you know, I'm not exactly a huge fan of ERA --especially early in the season.  A little bad luck or one bad outing can completely skew one's perception of their overall performance.  With that in mind, I wanted to take a closer look at Cubs pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Chris Volstad.

Jeff Samardzija: 2-1, 4.13 ERA

His standard statistics aren't terrible but they could be better.  Last night Samardzija was at his best, keeping the ball down and throwing strikes, mixing in a 95-96 mph fastball with an array of cutters, sliders, and split fingered fastballs.  He did a great job keeping the ball in the infield with 8 groundouts and 9 strikeouts while only allowing 2 fly balls.   On a day where the wind was blowing out to left, that was key.

As for the season stats, a deeper look indicates that Samardzija hasn't had great luck.  His BABIP this season is a very high .352, so lots of balls put in play are landing for hits.  The league average is .300 and Samardzija was at .253 and .262 the previous two seasons.  Hitters usually don't make hard contact on Samardzija, so the number is a bit inflated,  and while it may not sink as low as .250 again, we can look for that to go number to go down substantially, probably well below the league average.

Making this worse, more than the usual share of bad luck has come with men on base.  His left on base rate of 64.4% is down from 75% last year and 68% for his career.

He has put up a 3.00/9IP walk rate so far, the best in his career, though even that is slightly skewed by one bad outing.  His strikeout rate is an excellent 9.38/9 IP.  If he can maintain that walk rate while lowering the BABIP and raising his LOB%, then we should seen an improvement in his overall line.

His FIP, which is a better indicator of future success than ERA is currently at just 2.37.  We've already seen glimpses of this promise both in spring training and in a couple of regular season starts.  I'm expecting Samardzija to continue to pitch well throughout the season, though we will still see the occasional bump in the road.

Chris Volstad 0-2, 6.19

Volstad takes the mound and while some have been disappointed so far, advanced stats tell a different story.  They speak of a pitcher on the verge of a rebound, hopefully as soon as today as the Cubs try to sweep Cardinals.

The most glaring thing that jumped out at me was his left on base% is a ridiculously low 44%, that cannot carry on for much longer, especially considering his career LOB rate is 70%.  Sooner or later, the law of averages say that Volstad is going to start stranding runners instead of allowing over half of those who get on base to score.  That alone will lead to better results.

Volstad's BABIP is a little higher than average, but the disparity isn't as big as Samardzija's.  Volstad tends to hover around the league average rate of .300 and so far this season he's at .321, so the hope is that a few less of these batted balls land for hits as the season goes on.

The walk rate is also a very respectable 2.25 while he has struck out 7.88, both are better than his career numbers and we may expect those strikeouts to drop a little, but with Volstad changing to a more aggressive approach on the mound, I wouldn't be surprised to see him surpass his career best rate of 6.36 this season.

As for his FIP, it's a very solid 2.73, so that also bodes well for a rebound.  I don't expect Volstad to emerge as a frontline starter, but he should be getting better results than he has so far.  I think that by the end of the year we should see a guy with an ERA in the low 4s.

If I have one concern, it's that Volstad's fastball velocity is down from 91 to 89 so far this season, but it's early so we'll see if that's a permanent change or just a matter of Volstad building up strength as the season goes on.

The addition of Volstad and Samardzija to the rotation this year is one of the most important developments to monitor this season.  Volstad is just 25 and Samardzija is 27.  If they pitch up to their abilities and periphery stats, they could well become fixtures in the Cubs rotation for the next several years.


Leave a comment
  • Nice article, John. That brings me to two questions:

    1) What about the other guys in the rotation, especially Maholm? I assume by his omission that maybe things don't look as good?
    2) Is there such thing as a SPBIP (slugging percentage)? I could see that being an interesting stat as well. To me, if you're giving up a high SPBIP, that would mean you're being hit hard, not just that hits are landing. Obviously this idea is sort of out there, but I didn't know if it existed.

  • In reply to mosconml:

    I haven't seen that stat, but it would be interesting. Some pitchers just seem to get hit harder than others.

    As for the other, Dempster and Garza are pitching well, so I didn't feel more was needed. Garza is pitching almost exactly to his peripherals and we all know Dempster will regress a bit from that hot start.

    Maholm's peripherals are slightly better, but not enough to give hope yet.

  • John,

    Volstad's LOB% has to be heavily influenced by his first inning performance in his last start against Cincy, in which he was an absolute carousel. I was there (my second time going and being stuck watching Chris Volstad). He fooled no one and every ball off the bat was a laser beam. I'm a saber guy myself, and if I hadn't seen so much of Volstad already, I'd also caution that the numbers mean very little, but man. He just LOOKS terrible out there on the mound.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    He's had 2 awful innings this year where he's given up many of his runs, consecutive hits.

    When he's on and keeping the ball down, he's been pretty effective. I think he just needs to stay out of the bad inning and some, not all, of that has to do with some bad luck.

  • Well he had his one bad inning again. I really don't like this guy.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    That's been his issue. It's frustrating because they weren't making hard contact the entire game.

  • fb_avatar

    nice article John. That is encouraging about those two guys!

  • In reply to Gary Kueper:

    Thanks. A little too prophetic as far Volstad and the bad inning, unfortunately. Once he's had men on base, he hasn't been able to shut the door. He looks good for most of the game and then loses it for a few batters.

  • I'd settle for 2 wins in Philadelphia.

  • I'll take the series win. Hopefully they can string some of those together.

  • Great info John! I hope you are right.

  • In reply to JR Cubbies:

    Thanks. I hope I'm right too! Volstad looked good for 5 innings today.

  • fb_avatar

    Perhaps Volstad is no good pitching from the stretch? Maybe its a mental thing. It definitely seems that he will pitch good and then have one bad inning that ruins his line. He just can't seem to get out of trouble the way Dempster was this year. Could be bad luck or it could be an area he needs to work on.

Leave a comment