I'm writing this here, because Baseball Essential already had an analysis piece on Samardzija. You can read that here.
After losing out on Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks, the Giants turned to Jeff Samardzija on Saturday, inking him to a five-year, $90 million deal. He spent parts of seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs starting 66 games and relieving in 123. After transitioning full time to a starter in 2012, he posted a 3.83 ERA, 3.55 FIP in nearly 500 innings before being traded to the Athletics in 2014.
With one year of control left, the A’s shipped Samardzija to the White Sox where he had his worst season yet. He still pitched over 200 innings, but had a 4.96 ERA, 4.23 FIP and his strikeout rate dropped nearly six percent. What happened?
From 2012-2014, Samardzija threw five pitches at least 10% of the time. According to Brooks Baseball, here’s the breakdown:
Notice the difference in cutter rate. It increased almost ten percent while his four-seam and sinker rates went down nearly seven percent each. He also started throwing his slider more often, nearly a five percent increase.
The slider in 2015 was one of his main issues. From 2012-2014 opponents had OPSs of .578, .659 and .563, but .787 in 2015. Line drive percentage went up nearly seven percent while average velocity went down one. At age 30 his velocity should be slightly decreasing, but with little difference in movement or velocity there must be a difference in location.
Raw data from 2012-2014 and just from 2015: There’s not much difference except from 2012-2014 he worked more at the belt than below the strike zone.
Now here’s isolated power: When Samardzija did throw it belt high, the contact rate was up and ISO was up compared to 2012-2014.
One possible fix is his release point. Last year started releasing the point more on the side and stayed there through 2015. The low points in the 2012-2014 graph are from the changes he made in 2014 while in Oakland:
Even with Samardzija's stuff and relatively light workload Dave Righetti and the Giants have a tough test ahead of them. Right now, ZiPs projects Samardzija to accumulate nearly 13 wins during the five year deal assuming full health, but that's asking him to be just a league average (or so) starter.
The big question is whether or not he can get his strikeout rate back to around his career level and if he can do that then this deal will look like a bargain.
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