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.