Jeff Samardzija threw a bunch of pitches for the Giants in a regular season major league baseball game yesterday, and after he threw his last pitch of the day, we had a little more information about what kind of pitcher Jeff Samardzija will be this year. It's not that much information, of course, as multiple kinds of starting pitchers can have the iffy, pluses-and-minuses type start that Samardzija did yesterday. I did some painstaking research and came up with a list:
- Good pitchers
- Bad pitchers
- Okay pitchers
- Any other kind of pitcher
But still, we are all baseball fans, and so we have the privilege, the right, and the duty to draw conclusions based on small sample sizes. So, what are the main takeaways from Samardzija's start?
His velocity was down
Brooks Baseball had Samardzija's four-seamer averaging 93.1 MPH, his two-seamer averaging 93.4, and his cutter averaging 91.5. On the Samardzija scale, these are very low velocities. Before yesterday, he'd never had a start in his career where all three of those pitches were so slow. For someone like Samardzija, who's closer to the "thrower" end of the thrower-pitcher spectrum than most Giants starters in recent memory, regaining his 2014 form after losing some fastball would be very challenging.
The book on him has always been that he has the stuff to get anyone out and he just needs to harness it. Losing some of that stuff would mean he has to do much more harnessing. So, could this have been a signal of a precipitous yearlong decline in velocity, which will lead to Samardzija's career going south much earlier than expected in a Lincecumesque death spiral that will end in a new two-year contract after he's already been bad for multiple years? Yep! Could it also be a meaningless blip? Also yep! We have no idea, honestly.
Analysis is fun.
He didn't get many swing throughs, but he also didn't really try to...
Over the last few years, Samardzija's best swing and miss pitch has been his split-finger fastball, with his slider and cutter being next best. While he threw plenty of cutters, and got batters to swing and miss at them reasonably often, he didn't throw a lot of sliders, and didn't get any whiffs on them. And he totally abandoned the split; he threw three all game, so it clearly wasn't part of his game plan. The end result of that was 8 whiffs in 98 pitches, a stat that is downright zitonian.
I can't speak to the game plan or the scouting reports that the Giants have on the Brewers. Maybe they looked at proprietary data and saw a weakness against cutters and two-seamers. Maybe Dave Righetti made Samardzija write "The split will destroy my arm" on a chalkboard a hundred times. But if their plan was for him to not use his best swing and miss pitch, it seems unwise. Can a pitcher succeed without striking too many guys out? Sure. Can Jeff Samardzija? Well, he never has before.
...And he also struck plenty of guys out
1. That cutter was there when he needed it.
2. He caught three guys looking.
Would we prefer to see a few more swings and misses, so that the process behind 6 strikeouts in 5.1 innings makes a little more logical sense? Sure. But those strikeouts happened, so if you want to criticize Samardzija for not being able to strike guys out, it's a little premature. I don't know what kind of idiot would implicitly do that. Ha ha ha...Please keep reading.
He couldn't locate his four-seam fastball
You probably noticed that one watching the game, but if not, I'll just tell you that he had a rough time. In a lot of ways, this is the corollary to the swing through item: maybe Samardzija got away from his other pitches because the only one he could command was the cutter. We have no idea. This is what happens when you do a whole analysis based on one start. Whose idea was that? What an idiot.
He got plenty of groundballs
A whole bunch of Samardzija's peripherals suffered last year, with his strikeout rate in particular plummeting, but he also saw a massive decrease in grounders induced. In his dominant 2014, half of all balls put into play against Samardzija were on the ground; last year, that decreased by more than ten percent, which is a massive drop. The lack of grounders led to a lack of not giving up home runs, and his overall numbers suffered. In the Dixville Notch 2016 returns, Samardzija induced a ton of grounders. That's a good sign for the coming year, unless it doesn't mean anything.
In the end, there were good signs and bad signs for Jeff Samardzija in his first start as a Giant. There were also good results and bad results. Samardzija doesn't want to give us any answers just yet as to what kind of pitcher he's going to be. That's fun! Suspense is fun.
I hope he's good.