It’s Shark Week! Analysis of Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija pitches in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
It’s Shark Week!
There was a significant amount of hoopla on the weekend about the Toronto Blue rumoured interest in Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija after Bruce Levine of 670 The Score in Chicago tweeted that teams “have inquired about Samardzija” and that Toronto was “putting together a package of young players”. This piece won’t look at what potential players the Blue Jays could or should offer but rather serve as an introduction for Toronto fans to a man they call Shark.
Quick history lesson: Samardzija attended the University of Notre Dame and excelled at both football and baseball. He was drafted by the Cubs in 2006 but returned to Notre Dame that fall to play wide receiver with the Fighting Irish. He officially committed to baseball in January 2007 and signed a five-year deal with the Cubs worth $10 million deal, which included club options for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Samardzija is arbitration eligible for the first time this year and MLB Trade Rumors projects he’ll received $4.9 million in 2014.
He was a starter in the minors and logged more than 140 total innings in both 2007 and 2008. If you go strictly by numbers, his results appear to be nothing to write home about but he was still highly regarded within the Cubs system and was a Top 80 Prospect in 2006 and 2008 according to Baseball America.
His first few years with the Cubs were a struggle and many wondered if he would stick around after posting horrific numbers in 2009 and 2010 while also spending time to collect himself in Triple-A. He found himself out of options entering the 2011 season when suddenly something clicked for the then 26-year-old.
That year was the start of his transformation and he pitched to a 2.97 ERA to become one of the most dominant bullpen arms in baseball. He more than doubled his strikeout rate (9% to 22%), which helped reduce his FIP to a very tidy 3.66. His control still needed work (5.1 BB/9) but there was something different about the Shark.
It’s interesting to note that during that same 2011 season Samardzija greatly increased the usage of his sinker and now throws it slightly more often than his four-seamer. He also introduced a slider to his repertoire that same year. The results were lethal for opposing batters who were held to a .197 batting average against the Shark. He’s since phased out his curve ball and has replaced it with a cutter instead. And how can I not mention his splitter, which hitters have whiffed at a ridiculous 26% of the time each of the past two seasons since he’s transitioned to a starter.
Samardzija upped his ground ball rate this season to 48.2%, which would probably allow him to meet the threshold of being a “ground ball pitcher” but he’s really not and his career mark is lower at around 44%. His fly ball rate is trending downwards and was 31.% this year but he was victimized by a higher than average 13.2% HR/FB rate. As a result of the home runs his ERA suffered but kept his FIP at 3.77 and SIERA was 3.60, which are very respectable numbers. He’s thrown 388.2 innings since becoming a starter with no significant missed time due to injuries and has been worth 5.8 fWAR.
In 2014 Steamer projects that Samardzija will maintain his nearly one strikeout per inning pace and that his BB/9 will also remain close to the 3.3 mark it was last season. They predict he’ll put up another 3 wins by FanGraphs measure of WAR, which would be a welcome addition to most clubs. Obviously pitching in the American League East is tougher than the National League Central but there’s nothing about Samardzija that specifically shows he would have a tough time holding up.
However the question everyone wants to know still remains – what is the value of Jeff Samardzija to the Toronto Blue Jays?
All stats are courtesy of FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball and Baseball-Reference.com.