The statistical case for Jeff Samardzija? I'll give you the statistical case, pal. He led the AL in earned runs and home runs. Those are both statistics, and now your bowels are filled with Mountain Dew. The Giants paid $90 million to frustrate you for the next five years.
Except, sorry, that's a little harsh. I apologize. Just a little hopped up on post-Greinke grief. There is a statistical case to make for Samardzija. The case for him isn't just "He throws hard and he'll come around one of these days, werrrrp." There are number-crunchers who like him, too.
Dave Cameron doesn't think he's a bargain, necessarily, but he thinks it's a perfectly acceptable move. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections are very positive:
I would take that production and laugh. A 2.5-win pitcher over the next five years, with durability to boot? That would almost make the $90 million contract seem like a steal.
So why the optimism from the abacus-twiddlers? Because there are statistical nuggets that should make us smile. Here are just a couple:
The White Sox had an unspeakably awful defense last year
They had a bunch of Angel Pagans taped to Glenallen Hills, and that was just in the infield. Let me see if I can figure out a way for Giants fans to understand just how bad the defense was ... hrmmm ... oh!
Their starting third baseman for much of the season was Conor Gillaspie.
Yeah, that'll give you perspective. Statistically, though, it was the whole team that was a problem, ranking dead last in the majors. The Giants ranked first, so that should be a huge swing in Samardzija's favor.
He throws strikes
Back when the Cubs were converting Samardzija to the rotation, I noted that his career path was completely bonkers. He was a mess in the minors, and he didn't seem like he would ever throw strikes.
Over the last two years, though, he's hardly walked anyone, with a top-20 walk rate that's lower than Tim Hudson. Considering he's not exactly Livan Hernandez when it comes to his fastball, that's a good sign.
The WAR projections (and his value according to FanGraphs over the last few years) take his innings into account, and he's a regular 200-inning guy now. That really helps the bullpen, and there's a trickle-down effect to having a pair of those guys in the rotation.
If the Giants could get one more innings-eater, it would take pressure off Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich, Sergio Romo, and the rest of the bullpen next year. That could make a difference in September and hopefully October.
He was probably unlucky last year
Samardzija's FIP was nearly two-thirds of a run better than his inflated ERA, and his LOB% (left-on-base percentage) was almost five percent worse than his career mark. Considering that he didn't suffer a decline in his fastball velocity and general stuff, it's probably safe to expect those to both regress toward the mean.
The White Sox made him throw a cutter more than ever
The stats from FanGraphs show that Samardzija's fastball -- probably his best weapon -- was limited for some reason last year. He had more success with his four-seamer with the A's and Cubs, so I don't know if it was a personal choice or the bright idea of a pitching coach, but there's evidence that he tried something different, and it didn't work out. Which means he can scrap it for next season.
Also, he apparently wants to revisit his split-finger next year. I'm listening ...
I'm still not wild about the deal. But I'd rather have Samardzija than Johnny Cueto for $50 to $100 million more, and the Giants still have money to spend. It's a risk-reward balance that makes me nervous, but put it like this: If this is like a bold, reckless art heist, at least the Giants are targeting the Hermitage and not the Dubuque Center of the Arts.