On December 9, 2015, the Giants signed the pitcher who lead the American League in earned runs and home runs allowed. On June 27, 2016, everyone following the Giants had some concerns about this deal.
That’s not the whole story, of course. It omits the months of excellent pitching, the dominant starts where the big baseball man threw the baseball hard. Everything made sense when it was working. It’s not as if Jeff Samardzija was an 89-mph pie-tosser from the bowels of minor-league free agency. He is, was, and should continue to be one of the hardest throwers in the majors, a monster athlete.
Over the last four starts, though, we’re getting a look at just how much baseball players care about velocity and stuff when it’s thrown in the middle of the plate. Samardzija’s arm was advertised as "NR-MT+++, EXCELLENT CONDITION," and that was probably an accurate description! Can’t leave nasty feedback for that one. The fine print, though, suggests that Samardzija will go through stretches, often in one particular inning, where he’s somehow the easiest pitcher to hit on the planet.
Let’s check in with a two-strike slider with two runners on base:
Almost certainly one of the worst pitches of the year from a Giants pitcher, and it was disposed of with a somber justice.
Here was a pitch just prior that was ripped for a double instead of a homer, and it wasn’t much better:
Comfortable at-bat after comfortable at-bat, even when Samardzija was ahead in the count. I’d want to blame him tipping pitches again, but you don’t need to tip pitches down the middle for them to get hit.
Now we’re at the part of the program where we get to explain what it all means. Nothing? At least, it doesn’t have to mean anything. It means that Samardzija probably isn’t going to be a sub-3.00 ERA kind of pitcher. Which we knew. It means that he’ll go through stretches of abject misery, like most pitchers. Which we also knew. It means that you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have the facts of Shark.
But, boy, was it easy to get greedy when he was pitching into the eighth inning in every danged start. That was sure something we could have gotten used to. "Has it been five years already? Golly, what a whirlpool of quality starts and victory."
Instead Jeff Samardzija is a pitcher, and he’s not much different than Jake Peavy, just with an extra scoreless inning or two tacked on most of his starts. I’m not trying to be a downer with that description, I promise. It just feels more accurate than ever. The Giants will be fine if Samardzija finishes the season with a 3.91, which is where he’s at now. That’s about what they thought they were paying for. It’s what I thought they were paying.
It was just so, so, so easy to get greedy after that start ...
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Here’s one of the outs that Samardzija got!
Pitched to contact, and it worked. This game is really simple, you know.
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When you realize that’s no moon.
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Chris Stratton pitched the final three innings, finishing just six Giants runs away from a save or a win.
In the eighth inning, with the bases loaded and no outs, Bruce Bochy elected to keep Stratton in the game to hit for himself. He promptly hit into a double play and melted whatever secret comeback dreams you were harboring.
Here’s the thing, though: The game wasn’t over. A base hit and a homer made it a save situation, and there were no outs. The Giants have scored eight runs in two innings this year, and there was about a one-percent chance of them doing it again.
That written, we don’t have win-expectancy charts for rested relievers. We don’t know how much the Giants will benefit from George Kontos or Hunter Strickland pitching in one fewer game this season, especially in September or October. Is there a one-percent chance that it will make a difference? That seems fair, if not overly cautious.
If it’s up to me, I chase the glory of an unlikely comeback and let it warm the players when things look bleak. I’m not sure if it was a move that made a lick of difference, though, other than keeping an arm just a smidgen fresher that it otherwise would have been. That, and annoying the good ol’ fans who were still watching in the eighth inning of a wretched game.
Those weirdos will be back. So I get it.
The Giants lost to the A's by a bunch, and it's Albert Suarez's turn to save us the indignity of a second two-game losing streak over the last month. Until then, happy worrying about the high-priced free agent.