After years of being the golden boy and fan favorite who couldn't quite get there, Jeff Samardzija arrived as a starter in 2012. His record and ERA perhaps belittle the type of season he really had. His record of 9-13 with an ERA of 3.89 in 28 starts might not excite anyone. If you dig a little deeper, there was a lot of impressive stuff about his season considering it was his first full one in the rotation. Let's look a little closer.
Baseball-reference.com uses a statistic called the Game Score which has been talked about here before. Basically, what the statistic does is start a pitcher at 50 points. And then the pitcher gains points for innings pitched in the game and for strikeouts. He loses points for walks and hits. Anything over 50 was a good start and under 50 is a bad start. 50 is an average start. Samardzija had a Game Score average of 55.1, which was 5.1 points over average. And 61% of his starts were quality starts when the league average there is 51%.
Now you are getting a little better picture of how good Jeff Samardzija was in 2012. Also remember that the Cubs were a brutally bad club. The team lost 101 games in 2012 and the offense ranked fifteenth in a National League that sports sixteen teams. That offense was so bad that the team scored two runs or less in eleven of Samardzija's 28 starts. Nine of his thirteen losses came in those games. He was 6-4 in his fourteen games when the team scored from three to five runs, which is still not a lot of run support. Only two of his starts featured an offense that scored six or more runs.
And for a guy who was putting in his first full season as a starter, he got better as the season went along. In fact, he was killer in the second half. He was shut down early, of course, after he reached 170+ innings, but in his eleven second half starts, his ERA was 2.58 and his strikeout to walk ratio was a brilliant 4.21. His most dominating month was in August when in six starts, his strikeout to walk ratio was 6.0. He walked only seven batters in those six starts and still went 1-4 that month. Ugh.
A case could be made that if you could just throw out June, he would have been right up there with the pitching leaders. It was like he hit a wall in June or something. It was the only month that his strikeouts per nine innings fell under nine. Most of his months show him in the 1.050 WHIP rate or lower. But in June it was over two. He made five starts that month and lost four of them and had an ERA of 10.41. That is a lousy month!
But again, he was brilliant after and really the two months before it.
According to PitchF/X, Samardzija threw seven different pitches: four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a cutter, a curve, a slider a change up and a split-fingered fastball. His fastball averaged a very impressive 95 MPH for the season! But that wasn't his best pitch. The splitter was his best pitch. In fact, Fangraphs rated his splitter as the best in baseball both in total score and in value per 100 pitches.
The split-figured pitch probably accounts for the 34% of the time Samardzija enticed batters to swing out of the strike zone. It probably also helped him have the fifth highest swing and miss rate in baseball among qualifying pitchers too.
There is a lot to like here looking at his numbers and that is why it was a little disappointing to see the Cubs recently back off making a multi-year offer to extend him. It looks now like he will just sign a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. But then again, the Cubs control him through 2015 so there is time.
Jeff Samardzija had a very good first full season as a starter. It was an encouraging season that got better as it went along. If you take out June, he was one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball and really flew under the radar because of the team on which he played. It will be interesting to see if Samardzija can improve on his great season or if he will regress. If he improves, now that will be exciting! And the coolest thing about the pitcher? I can now spell his name without looking it up.