If you asked me what Jeff Samardzija would need to do to solidify his status as an ace, without looking at the stats, I would say he needs to get more outs more quickly. I think that's the simplest way to say it: pitch more innings per start, and keep that ERA down below 3.
Well now I'm looking at the stats, and Shark was actually 11th in innings pitched last year. So, like, shit, that's pretty good. He had only pitched 170 innings the year before, too, so this was a nice step up.
But now let's talk about getting outs more quickly. For example, how many pitches did it take Jeff to get those 213.2 innings? How many batters did he face over the full year?
According to b-ref, Jeff threw 3,462 pitches in 2013 -- a big step up from 2012. And he faced 914 batters. In terms of rates, that's 4.28 batters faced per inning, and 3.77 pitches per plate appearance.
For Jeff to prove himself as an ace, he needs to get through innings more quickly -- that is, face fewer batters per inning. As of today, Jeff is averaging 3.96 batters faced per inning. That is a substantial drop. And his pitches per plate appearance are nearly identical.
So what would it mean for Jeff if he were able to adjust his batters faced per inning pitched from 4.28 to 4 over the course of a full season? WARNING: ALGEBRA APPROACHING! Let's say he throws the same number of pitches, and continues to need about 3.8 pitches per plate appearance. To calculate his new innings pitched total, you'd divide 914 by 4 instead of 4.28: the result is 228.5, or about 15 more innings than Jeff threw last season. That's 15 innings for which you don't need Pedro Strop or Hector Rondon -- that saves your bullpen.
Put another way, Jeff goes from a guy that usually leaves in the 6th to one that pitches 7 innings per start. That's valuable.
As for the quality side of Jeff's pitching, rather than the quantity, his numbers so far show a drop in strikeouts. But you totally take that when walks go down (from 3.3 to 2.3), and ground balls go up (48% to 51%).
Jeff is basically camping out in the strike zone according to Pitch F/X, throwing 55 percent of his pitches for strikes (compare that to 48 percent last year). To date, he's started nearly two-thirds of the batters he's faced off with a strike -- a crucial stat for quick at-bats. And there's only one reason he can afford to throw so many strikes without getting hammered: he has great stuff.
If Shark does this for another 5 months, he'll have put up a truly fantastic pitching season, and I'll miss him all the more when he's traded away.
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