by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
There was a time that Jeff Samardzija was viewed as one of the better starting pitchers in the game… Well, at least there was one season he was viewed as such (2014). That seems like a full career ago at this point, as his ERA in the three subsequent seasons have been less than stellar:
- 2015 – 4.96
- 2016 – 3.81
- 2017 – 4.42
You would think that would mean he’d be easily ignored, but that’s just not the case. Samardzija actually showed ample underlying ability last season, with enough of all three skills we generally look for:
- Strikeouts – 8.88 K/9
- Walks – 1.39 BB/9
- Groundballs – 41.5%
Obviously we’d like to see a few more groundballs, but the other numbers are impressive. The inflated ERA came due to some poor luck (67.5% strand rate) as well as home run issues (1.30 HR/9). Can he maintain the strikeout and walk rates? Can he cut down on the home runs?
It shouldn’t be surprising that he was worse on the road, but a 1.76 HR/9 (0.76 at home)? Extreme may be an understatement, and it’s easy to envision an improvement. Yes there are some poor road ballparks to pitch in (Colorado and Arizona), and at this point we’d avoid using him for those starts. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, as he still should provide you 26-28 usable outings.
He has always shown elite control, though last season’s mark is a bit extreme. Still he posted a 1.81 BB/9 in the second half and, at worst, should provide a 2.25 BB/9. In other words, even with poor luck, he has the makings of a an above average WHIP option.
There was a notable jump in strikeouts, though Samardzija also changed his approach. He stopped using his cutter (18.85% to 8.96%), instead using his curveball (7.83% to 14.69%). While the curveball didn’t necessarily generate the swings and misses, it gave opponents another look and likely kept them off balance. Maybe he sees a small regression, but even an 8.00 K/9 would be enough.
So he brings enough strikeouts and a potentially elite WHIP, immediately making him a viable option at the back of your rotation. While you are going to want to avoid 4-6 starts, given the location and the potential to be beaten up by the long ball, is that enough of a reason to avoid him? He may not be an elite option, but he’s a solid one and well worth owning to fill out your staff.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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