Tonight, Jeff Samardzija pitched for the final time in the 2012 season. His rotation spot will be given to Jason Berken. We’ve already blogged in Spring Training about the initial decision to turn Jeff into a starter, and revisited the decision last month after three of the top pitchers in the rotation were traded (Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm) or injured (Matt Garza). Now that the first phase of the experiment is complete, let’s take a look at how Jeff did overall.
Dabynsky has written before about Jeff’s splitter, and many others have as well. It is a devastating pitch that has become Jeff’s go-to pitch for strikeouts. At one point, Jeff tried to modify his slider to see if a curveball could added to his arsenal. That obviously didn’t work as his ERA in the month of June was atrocious. Once he scrapped the would-be “curve” he performed admirably again. If not for some fails by his teammates on offense, Jeff’s win-loss record wouldn’t look so bad.
Before tonight’s start against the Pirates, Jeff Samardzija had made 27 starts, pitching 165.2 innings. This amount was 24 more than his highest total in a professional season (yes, minors count) and about 80 more than he had pitched the previous season as a reliever for the Cubs. At the Cubs Convention Jeff talked about how he had worked tirelessly through the winter and leading up to Spring Training to be converted into a starter. The work seems to have paid off, as he entered his final start with a 3.91 ERA, 3 BB/9 innings, and 9.3 K/9 innings. Decreasing his walk rate more than two per nine was instrumental to his success, as first-pitch location allowed him to set up his secondary pitches, including the go-to splitter. This season while tracking his pitches on Gameday, I’ve seen him throw the regular four-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a splitter. I’ve also seen an occasional cutter and the curveball that didn’t work. The fact that he can generally locate his fastball well (the fastball velocity gets up to 97 mph) and have good command of those other pitches now makes him a legitimate top-of-rotation starter. He’s probably not at Number One or Number Two material yet, but on these rebuilding Cubs, he’s pretty much the de facto top dog, depending on when Matt Garza comes back (and whether Garza is traded).
I did notice that Jeff’s fielding-independent pitching (FIP) metric was the same as last year, and the xFIP (normalized to league average) was even better than last year. Jeff hasn’t been helped much in the lucky stats, like BABIP and homers, but he’s still managed to keep things in check. It’s also not like he pitched against the Astros every time out, as he’s had plenty of starts against current division/wild card leaders and contenders. For a guy who we’ve thought was a bust after the previous years and little progress, Jeff has been one of the few positives and pleasant surprises of this Cubs season.
Despite his struggles in the month of June, Jeff Samardzija has always shown an air of confidence in himself and his abilities. Tonight against the Pirates, he got into a jam with some early wildness and could have given up a huge first inning. But he clamped down on the Pirates offense and struck out two guys to get out of the inning. The Cubs offense rewarded him by tying the game and eventually getting a one-run lead, but a Starlin Castro error prolonged the inning and allowed the Pirates to tie the game themselves. Such is life, but they eventually got him yet another run and Jeff pitched the first complete game of the season and tied Paul Maholm for the lead in Cubs pitcher wins with nine. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.
The numbers for Jeff Samardzija will be updated tomorrow on both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Tonight’s line:
|J Samardzija (W, 9-13)||9.0||4||3||2||1||9||0||120-81||3.81|
Jeff finishes the season with 174.2 innings pitched in 28 starts, lowered his ERA to 3.81 (which is impressive all things considered), giving up 56 walks (which is just barely more than last season when he was a reliever in half the innings) and striking out 180 opposing batters. The 20 homers given up will hopefully decrease in the future as he learns how to better locate that speedy but flat fastball.
In the aforementioned 28 starts, Jeff Samardzija faced 723 batters, with only 4 hit batsmen and 10 wild pitches. The wildness has subsided as he has a 3.21 strikeout/walk ratio, which is miles better than what he used to show as a reliever and minor leaguer. Jeff had slight flyball tendencies as he only generated 44.6% ground balls on balls in play, but for the most part he kept the ball in the park and pitched around marginally bad luck (including his own team’s offensive failings). Jeff had a line drive rate of 22.3% with 33.1% classified as fly balls, though 3.8% were classified as infield flies, or popups. This meant about half the time the ball was hit with potentially enough authority to get it out of the park, but his homer/flyball rate was 12.8% so it wasn’t like he was throwing batting practice. There’s some pitchf/x data from the FanGraphs page that could be interesting and Dabynsky will take a look at that later on. Jeff finishes the season having accumulated 3.5 fWAR and 1.9 rWAR which again is outstanding for a first-year starter. He also fielded his position much better than some of his teammates (*cough cough* GARZA *cough*), having only committed two throwing errors but actually having started one double play.
At the beginning of the season, we as Cubs fans figured that the Jeff Samardzija experiment was a fool’s errand and would end in disaster and failure. How glad I am to be dead wrong. It was a worthwhile gamble for a rebuilding team looking to build assets, and now we have one. Hopefully this wonderful breakout season isn’t a fluke. I expect the front office to offer Jeff an arbitration contract next season in his first year of eligibility, and if he can repeat this success or even improve on it, the rebuild could be in good shape. Kudos to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer for rolling the dice and showing us that they might in fact know what the hell they’re doing. Or they could just be incredibly lucky…we’ll find out next season, and beyond.