It’s almost time to think about next year. I don’t mean that as an A’s fan — that works too — but more in the terms of keeper and dynasty leagues. Keeping pitchers can be a very risky proposition given their tendency to get injured, making the call on a pitcher a tricky one. For now, lets take a look at current Chicago White Sox and soon-to-be free agent Jeff Samardzija. Other than a 4.35 ERA, there are multiple red flags on the Shark’s pitching profile. A dip in swinging strike rate, K/9 and K-rate to go with a four year high in FIP and xFIP are all trends going in the wrong directions.
As the 30-year-0ld continues to pitch his four big leagues strictly as a starter, we have a good amount of innings to look at. Unsurprisingly, Samardzija has lost a bit of speed on his fastball as he ages, declining from a season high 96 mph in 2012 to 94 this season. Going to the good folks at Brooks Baseball, observe the table below recording his average velocity.
Samardzija tossed 45 curveballs back in 2012 and according to the PITCHf/x algorithm and hand charting, he hasn’t throw one since. He’s substituted the curve in exchange for a higher usage rate in a slider and cutter, as shown below via Brooks once again.
The dip Shark’s whiff rate is also worrisome given the relationship between swinging strikes and strikeout rate. Keep in mind pitch sequencing can play a large role in the outcome of a plate appearance, however it is worth emphasizing that as he increases his cutter usage, his swinging strike rate dips. Despite a much improved walk rate, Samardzija has also seen his K%-BB% dip as well. While not a fantasy stat, I’m quite fond of K%-BB% for helping whittle down high WHIP starting pitchers who have simply given up a lot of hits, beyond what BABIP+HR shows. For my usage, I like using K%-BB% to display guys who merely miss bats to the list of pitchers who can miss bats while also limited free passes.
Without a huge shift in BABIP over the previous four years — even his .298 mark this season compares well enough verses his .294 career BABIP — and even a dipping home run, Samardizja is suffering from poor sequencing in the terms of his outcomes with runners on base. This year he owns a 3.64 FIP with runners on, however his 9.24 ERA tells a pretty brutal story when it comes to sequence of events. The 5.61 gap between his FIP and ERA is eighth highest among 98 qualified starters. The Shark’s difficulties with runners isn’t something particularly new for him, as going back to the 2012 season again his 3.70 FIP versus a 7.86 ERA with men on rates as the 12th largest gap among 86 qualified starters.
The improved walk rate has come attached to a decreased strikeout rate, most likely due to the shift in his pitch repertoire. Samardzija will be 31 by the time spring training rolls around and his fastball has dipped a bit. His secondary pitch velocity remains fine, however he just isn’t getting the swings and misses like he used, contributing to his lower strikeout total. I’ve owned the Shark in many leagues over the years, but now it seems like I finally have to throw him back to free agency. I’m willing to take a risk on him if I can catch at a good price in the draft, but I’m not sure I could draft him with comfort if I’m relying on him as my SP2 type pitcher. Until I see more whiffs, Samarzija will be a SP3 with a SP2 upside; not exactly a keeper in most leagues.