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Samardzija in depth

Samardzija in depth

There's a lot of news surrounding Jeff Samardzija right now. There's the obvious stuff; Samardzija inked a new contract and the Cubs avoid arbitration with yet another player. There's the undercurrent of what the obvious stuff could mean; does the contract make him more or less likely to be traded, will he sign a contract extension to stay on with the Cubs? And then there's the stuff that teems beneath the surface; what will his situation say about the Cubs competitive window? Will he be around on the next Cubs winner? And why does PECOTA hate him so much?

Ah, that last one is interesting. Before we dive into that let's take another serious look at what Samardzija did in 2013.

Shark's ascendance to de facto Cubs Ace (so we hope) has been a rather interesting one. His story is far from complete but Samardzija has competently gone from "expensive bullpen failure" to "pretty solid mid rotation starter" in three years' time. It's not been easy and he did falter badly last year in terms of stats like ERA (3.81 in 2012, 4.34 in 2013) and WHIP (1.22 in 2012, 1.35 in 2013).

The final results felt especially brutal after a string of borderline brilliant performances that ran from April into June. Over that span Samardija made 12 starts and provided 79 innings of 2.96 ERA ball. Opponents slashed .203/.278/.324 off him over that stretch and he posted a 3.25/1 K/BB ratio. It was solid baseball that seemingly marked Samardzija's arrival as a frontline starter.

Samardzija faded as the season wore on, however. From June 8th until September 29th Shark posted a 5.15 ERA in 134.2 innings. Opposing batters teed off on him to the tune of a .284/.351/.459 mark. The K/BB ratio was still a respectable 2.46 and his BABIP over that period of time was a robust .338 so maybe there was some bad luck mixed in there but it's still a pretty ugly picture.

Overall Samardzija made some positive gains and took some steps backwards in 2013. His Innings went up drastically and he topped 200 IP for the first time in his career, but he also took a step backwards in terms of K% and BB%.

Year IP K% BB%
2012 174.2 24.9 7.8
2013 213.2 23.4 8.5

 

In terms of Samardzija's batted ball profile he gave up less line drives last year, increased his GB%, and induced more infield fly balls.

Year LD% GB% IFFB%
2012 22.3 44.6 3.8
2013 20.4 48.2 10.1

 

So, it was a weird year considering the ultimate results and the peripheral stats that accompanied them. It's doubly confounding when you take the stuff into account. Here are the 2013 outcomes for what hitters did against Samardzija's pitch types.

Pitch Type AB AVG SLG
Fourseam 172 .279 .448
Sinker 241 .332 .469
Slider 154 .227 .442
Cutter 72 .319 .569
Split 167 .138 .240

 

The slider got hit harder than it did last year (opponents slugged .322 against it last year) but other than that the batted ball profile remained about the same as it was during his breakout year in 2012.

Samardzija's splitter is still the ultimate out pitch for him; he generated a 27.12 WHIFF% on it last year. He's come to rely on it as his strikeout pitch as well as he threw it 328 times in counts with two strikes last year. Next highest was the fourseamer which he went to 201 times.

The peripherals and the stuff do paint a more optimistic story than the one Samardzija authored in 2013. That would lead one to expect some positive regression in 2014, yes?

PECOTA isn't so optimistic

Here are the stats projected for Samardzija by PECOTA:

IP ERA WHIP SO WARP
195.1 4.39 1.34 177 0.3

 

That would be a definite step backwards towards backend starter territory. By comparison here are Steamer and ZIPS predicitions:

IP ERA WHIP SO
Steamer 192 3.73 1.26 184
ZIPS 184.1 3.56 NA 179

 

PECOTA stands out as the most pessimistic of Samardzija in 2014 Rather than expecting positive regression PECOTA predicts Shark to regress further. The picture painted is one of a backend starter rather than the frontline guy that's Samardzija has teased at being.

So what gives? What will Shark end up being in 2014? Will he take a massive step forward and establish himself as a #2 starter ala Max Scherzer or will he continue to slink back into mediocrity and take the Yovani Gallardo career arc?

There are a few things to consider here. While Samardzija has not logged a lot of innings he is 29 and while he teases at a bigger potential there likely isn't a huge mental growth spurt in him. Any growth left in Samardzija is likely to be incremental. The other thing to take into account is that the PECOTA projections are the most likely outcome with leeway to go either way. The fact that it is so pessimistic about Shark is concerning in a manner because there's the very real possibility that he could be worse than his projection suggests, but there's also a good chance he's better than the numbers.

PECOTA breaks down his projections thusly:

Breakout Improve Collapse
25% 38% 20%

 

So while PECOTA projects a pretty abysmal season from Samardzija it also concedes that there's a 38% chance he improves over last year and a 25% he has a breakout season. Those aren't great odds, but they are something to consider.

I stand by my assessment that Jeff Samardzija is a mid-rotation starter who can sometimes string together a few performances that make you think he's something greater. He's a bit like Matt Garza in that regard, but if he maintains 210+ innings he'll have more value than the erratic Garza in my estimation. Shark has obvious stuff but command and repetition will always be issues for him and that will keep him from being a true frontline guy. I think you can win with a guy like that in your rotation.

Samardzija got 5.3 MM from the Cubs to avoid arbitration but he's still looking for a contract extension. The Cubs are in an interesting position with regards to Shark. They've attempted to shop him around without much luck. The Blue Jays were heavily involved there but that avenue never came to fruition. With the Cubs losing out on Masahiro Tanaka and having a thin rotation as is I find it difficult to believe that Samardzija will be traded before the seasons starts. Regardless of where the Cubs think they are from a competitive standpoint they will need the innings Samardzija provides. Someone has to start those games and it would reduce the stress placed on a revamped bullpen.

When you consider trade opportunities concerning Samardzija it's important to keep in mind that the Cubs would be selling low on a commodity that will be asking for at least Edwin Jackson money when it comes to an extension. The Cubs are light on pitching prospects and it would take the right organization and good timing to pull off a trade that would net a good return for the Cubs. Shark is a flippable asset but his value is at a low heading into the season. If the Cubs are intent on trading Samardzija they would be better served waiting for a team in contention to find themselves in sudden need of a starter.

Shark is still a bit of an enigma at this point in his career. While the arm is young, the rest of him isn't. There's room for growth but I'm in the camp that his ceiling is much lower than "True Ace". Shark's surface numbers should look better this year; the ERA was inflated in 2013 and his peripheral numbers suggested as much. I do think it'll be important to keep in mind that inconsistency will likely be a theme to his career, if it isn't already. Anyone who's taken a peek at his game logs can tell you as much and it's hard to correct inconsistency at 29.

Samardzija is a fine pitcher, but he's no ace. That's ok, very few are.

Filed under: Analysis

Tags: Baseball, Cubs, mlb, Pitching, Samardzija

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    Shark is no ace. But then, you say he's asking for Edwin Jackson money. Today, the price of pitching is inflated. That's just the situation right now. 13 mil for a #3 starter is not an outrageous amount of money. If that's what he's asking, give it to him. If you're afraid to spend 13 mil on a pitcher, your only other option is to continue looking for buy-low candidates like Feldman, Baker, Arrietta and hope to catch a surprise. Personally, my fingers are cramped from being crossed so long. I'm tired of it.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Well said. Agree with pretty much all of this.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Agree that $13M for a #3 is the market these days. But Mauricio wrote that Shark will be asking for AT LEAST Edwin Jackson money. If Cubs could extend Shark for EJax-type money I'm sure they would have and would be crazy not to do so. But I suspect Shark wants much more than that. He wants TOR money and wants to show everyone with his performance this year that he's worth it. I forsee a step forward for Shark this year and I'm looking forward to it.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Interesting the Yankees paid so much for a "#3 starter"

  • I've changed positions on Samardzija given how this offseason unfolded. I really think the Cubs need to find a way to extend him now. Prices have gone up even for locking up your own players at this point because there's nowhere else to spend the money. It doesn't seem like the Cubs will get what they want in return for a trade, and even if he is "just" a #3, where else will the Cubs get the players to replace him? At this point, just extend him. Increase the offer. Im not sure where else the Cubs will get a guy who is a #3 or better, even if they sign a FA or 2 next offseason. I don't think they have a guaranteed #3 in their system right now. A 2015 rotation of Wood, Shark, Bailey/Scherzer, Arrieta, and maybe Jackson, along with whoever from the current AA/AAA group is still only moderately competitive in my view. It only gets worse if Shark is elsewhere.

  • In reply to Nateisnotnice:

    Yeah I think they need him around to provide the 200 innings of above average baseball.

  • Samardzija's big problem (from my non-statologist point of view) in the second half last year (and this is reflected in the stats you pull up for him 2nd half last year Mauricio) is that he just seemed to get too far onto pitch counts last season.

    Too many 3-2 and 2-1 counts where he just seemed to not get to the point in individual at bats,.... the point (of course) being to get the hitter to either strike out, or hit something weak that could be fielded by one of the position players.

    I've stated many times (especially when I show up on Yahoo!'s comment links) that hsi big problem is that he throws - rather than pitches a lot of the time.

    Samardzija has got the 'stuff' to be a #1 or #2 starting pitcher,.... by he's not (to this point anyway) consistently learned to pitch.

    He figures that out,.... he could indeed be an 'Ace'.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I think that's really difficult to figure out, however. Consistent release points elude many a pitcher.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I agree with the sentiment that he "throws" vs "pitches". Seems like he lives and dies with his splitter. When it's on, he's pretty much unhittable, When it's not, he just tries to blow FB's by everyone and runs his counts up, walks up, etc...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Much better said, and more concisely, than I put it HD.

    And he's got a nice fastball,.... but lots of batters are good at hitting fastballs in the zone if they suspect they are coming.

  • Has Samardzija displayed later in the season troubles before? Does he lose a mental edge when games don't "matter" because his team is not competitive?

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Yes, June of 2012. 10 ERA in 5 starts.

    Might be a mental thing, but my money is on basic inconsistency related to mechanics.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    His competitiveness has always been talked about and certainly comes up in the extension talk - that begin on a good team is more important than the ultimate dollar figure he gets.

    I'd like to see how he pitches on a competitive team. Starting off strong, when there is still some hope, then losing focus when your 20 games out, may make some sense. I like your question Quedub.

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    I'm thinking an Anibal Sanchez type deal might look reasonable the way the price of pitching keeps inflating.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    They'd be crazy to give that kind of deal right now, in my opinion.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I agree. The EJax number seems low.

  • Why the June 8th split in the side by side comparison of stats? You've got 79 Innings pitched in the early part (good shark) vs. 134.2 innings in the latter half (bad shark).

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Displays the erratic nature of his year

  • I think there are maybe about 10 true aces out there... Samardzija is no ace, but he could be a valuable #3... I believe keeping Samardzija is not essential for the rebuilding purposes and trading him won't delay this process too much (unless he breaks out like a true ace)... But It'd be nice to keep him as the leader of the rotation, even if they have to slide him down the order as other pitchers step up.

    Also, the fact that his splitter is so unhittable tells me that if he ever fails as a starter, he would be a heck of a closer only using his fastball, slider and splitter... While completely scratching the cutter and sinker.

    Another thing I noticed... His sinker and cutter are more of a low 90's pitch than a mid 90's pitch, like his fastball, signs of his command probably being worse than his mediocre BB rate... Here's hoping that he at least becomes Matt Garza instead of regressing.

  • In reply to Caps:

    I think he started toying with that pitch in an attempt to initiate weak contact and get a ground ball and get out of the AB... but he's left it up in the zone too often...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Yeah, I think in his very 2nd game of the 2013 season, he struck out a lot of batters but was at 100 pitches in the 5th inning, so they were trying to find a pitch he could use to retire hitters early in the count so he could go deeper, which is why he started using his cutter and sinker more.

  • I think the Shark will end up like former Dallas wide receiver Alvin Harper. When he was the number 2 behind Irvin he was one of the best receivers in football. As the number 1 in Tampa he was not good. I think if you put a true ace in front of Jeff he would rise to his top level. He's like a thoroughbred, if there's a lead horse in front of him he'll be right on his tail. (a little horse pun for ya) Shark's biggest problem last year was when he was bad he was awful. If he quits pitching every inning like it's the 9th and tries to get a little more contact he could take that next step.

  • Was surprised at how ineffective that sinker and cutter is. Samardzija should be able to throw a good 2 seamer. Maybe developing that pitch a bit more could be the difference.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    His GB% went up from 2012 to 2013, but so did his babip. That to me screams bad luck. I think the sinker may have been the victim of an unusual amount of groundballs finding their way through.

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    At this time of the morning I am not in the mood to go looking to hand pick stats to back up my point but Shark always seem to regress back to trying to blow by people when he got into trouble. Just the normal progression of a player when it finally clicks that there are 8 other players on the field with him should help. I still see Shark as a Curt Schilling type if he ever develops that confidence in his teammates.

  • In reply to Richard Hood:

    Never thought of it, but Shark does have some similarities to early career Schilling as far as his size/durability/mentality/stuff on the mound. Good call.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Wouldn't it be nice to see him 'evolve' into a Curt Schilling type player?

    Especially IF he is doing that for the Cubs - rather than for some other team?

  • According to PECOTA he has a 63% chance to improve on his performance to some degree. That isn't spectacular odds, but I still think it is encouraging. I am a believer in Samardzija because I think eventually his athleticism will help continue to help him improve his command issues, he is also built like a true workhorse that should be able to log 200+ innings for several more years (and who to this point has shown no arm issues at all), and also he possesses a true plus-plus pitch (splitter) as well as two other average/above average pitches in his slider and 4 seamer.

    All of those factors lead me to believe that Shark is still possesses the best chance of anyone in the organization to become a TOR starter. Maybe he is a late bloomer like Scherzer or Sanchez (who took steps late in their 20s to become pitchers instead of throwers). I would rather give Shark this year to show improvement then to trade him for a maybe like Sanchez (similar profile to Shark really) or Stroman (size concerns). Are either any more likely to become the type of pitcher we need? I don't think so. Now if we can make a deal to get two of those types of pitchers (which appears to be the type of deal the FO is only willing to make) then I would be in favor of it because I think the odds of getting an ace could be at least slightly improved. But without getting two guys (or a true elite prospect like Bradley), then it isn't worth it to me. Shark still has too much going in his favor in my mind.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    And even if he fails to become a TOR starter, he profiles well as an innings eating #3 that because of his plus-plus out pitch that can flash better than that. That type of pitcher is still an extremely valuable commodity for a MLB rotation and I would have no qualms about signing him to a contract extension, even after 2015, that pays him market value for those qualities.

  • I wonder if it's a coincidence that Samardzija's outings deteriorated in the second half of the season. His comments to the press about trading Garza and the makeup of the post-trade deadline team seemed to coincide with his performance slide. Throw in contract issues, and I strongly suspect an attitude issue or, at least, a loss of focus once it became evident the 2013 squad was headed nowhere. It could be that he'll pitch better when the Cubs field a team that's ready to compete - or not. In the meantime, Shark has reached an age where the team can no longer make plans based on his potential - he is what he is. Whether the Cubs should or shouldn't trade him isn't the question. The question is, will what is offered be of more benefit to the team than more years of Samardzija's 2013 performance?

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    2012 first half ERA: 4.71
    second half: 2.58

    He can pitch well when the team is out of it, he's just a wildly inconsistent guy.

  • In reply to Jimmie Ward:

    2012 was also his first year as a starter - it could be argued that he learned and improved as the season progressed. "Wildly inconsistent" doesn't explain everything. In 2012, for example, was he "inconsistent" before the ASB and "consistent" after? Why was he more "inconsistent" in the second half of 2013 than in the first?
    There's something more than consistency at work in his performance.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    June was his worst month in 2012, he went up and down the entire year. It wasn't the case of him just improving as the season went along in his first season as a starter.

  • Looks to me like Spellcheck needs some work on his breaking pitc hes. His cutter in particular seems to get hit hard.

  • One way I look at either signing or trading Shark is, would you rather sign Homer B. and
    have two prospects with a 5-7 million higher AAV or Shark.

    I think we would need an additional starter even with Homer, but the same comparison can be made right down the line with Masterson.

  • I use these lyrics from a Bowie song to describle Shark...
    "When it's good, it's really good, and when it's bad I go to pieces."
    Guess the song and win a lifetime supply of nothing.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to hoffpauir6:

    The title of the song is "Candidate"

    Please donate my lifetime supply of nothing to someone who needs it more than I do.

    Thank you

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Ding Ding Winner.
    I would've accepted "Sweet Thing" as well.

  • Could be wrong, but I remember 2, maybe 3 times this season, where Jeff didn't have it, and Sveum for some reason left him in.

    My memory could be bad, but correct me if Jeff didn't have games where he gave up 6 or more runs, and was still left in the game.

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