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Community Projection: Jeff Samardzija

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San Francisco Giants Workout Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Stat Line

181.1 IP, 32 GS, 3.52 ERA / 4.59 FIP, 49 BB, 140 K, 28 HR, 1.5 fWAR

You want innings? Call Jeff Samardzija. You want quality innings? Well . . . sign Johnny Cueto in the same offseason. The Giants did that before 2016 and they got half of that promised package.

Save for a terrible 2018 (10 starts, 6.25 ERA, shoulder problems), Samardzija has been a league average pitcher (101 ERA+). Perfect for the back of a good team’s rotation, undesirable for the top of the Giants’ rotation, which is more or less where he was in 2019, when he posted a 119 ERA+, or 19% better than the league average pitcher.

Overall, though, he’s been just a healthy serving of average in a rotation — which is fine! Except, it’s not what the Giants really need if they’re going to be better any time soon. The good news is, the Giants won’t be good any time soon, so there’s really no issue with a solidly average pitcher sticking in the rotation.

He’s better than a lot of the options they have on hand, and given how he’s in the final year of his deal, a solid pre-deadline performance would almost certainly net the Giants a 27-28 year old Triple-A guy who hasn’t been able to break through on some major league roster a la Mike Yastrzemski or a fringe-y 40-man guy a la Joe McCarthy or a player on the bubble for a 40-man spot but Rule 5 eligible in December. That’s not nothing! Not exciting, but not nothing!

And lest you think I’m being ridiculous, consider Jeff Samardzija’s half-season splits for tOPS+, the measure of offensive performance against a pitcher against the league average and with a ballpark adjustment. For pitchers, less than 100 is better.

Samardzija Season Splits

Season 1st Half tOPS+ 2nd Half tOPS+
Season 1st Half tOPS+ 2nd Half tOPS+
2016 101 99
2017 105 93
2019 109 89

That shows a pretty remarkable run of being even better in the second half and considering how his overall 2019 had him in the same league (119 ERA+) as Anibal Sanchez and Julio Teheran and better than Wade Miley (116), Max Fried (113), Yu Darvish (112), Madison Bumgarner (107), Matthew Boyd (105), and Trevor Bauer (105), he will have trade value if he can repeat his performance and despite a $18 million price tag (which the Giants would surely pick up if they wanted a prospect bad enough).

Samardzija absolutely does not have the pedigree or cost certainty of Bauer, but it’s worth noticing that in return for Bauer, the Cincinnati Reds had to give up Yasiel Puig, starting pitching prospect Scott Moss, and top prospect Taylor Trammell. That doesn’t mean the Giants are in a position to get another team’s top prospect for the 10 or so starts of Jeff Samardzija, only that he’ll have trade value at the deadline — if he stays healthy.

It’s glib that I’m talking about how he can help the Giants on the trade market instead of the rotation, but that’s the state of the team and the state of baseball analysis at this point. The game is mostly geared towards looking ahead instead of being in the moment. Gerrit Cole’s deal was less about how he can help the Yankees in 2020 and more about his 9-year guarantee and how that might impact future payroll flexibility. Not a fan of this myopic view, but here we are.

Still . . . let’s just say the Giants don’t get off to a 10-40 start. Maybe it’s more like 20-30. That would still be mostly bad, but the seeds of it exist in solid performances from Kevin Gausman and Jeff Samardzija.

Consider that among starting pitchers last year, Samardzija’s 2,571 rpm spin rate was the 4th-best in baseball. His 2,480 rpm sinker spin rate was sixth, behind Gerrit Cole. His 2,607 rpm cutter 12th. His 2,449 rpm slider 86th (out of 281 qualifiers). His 2,498 rpm curveball was 102nd. His splitter (1,451 rpm) is 20th out of 30 qualifiers, but remember that low spin isn’t bad — low spin means pitches tend to drop more. I think you’d agree that lower spin on pitches like curveballs and splitters is a very good thing. Flip that splitter result, for instance, and he’s got a top-10 splitter among all starting pitchers in baseball.

Last year, the team committed to simply giving him two turns through a lineup (or less if he was getting hit hard) and pulling him out. This was a small tweak from the “innings eater” concept the team had for him when Bobby Evans signed him. It was a good tweak, though, because the results really speak for themselves. Samardzija wasn’t just fine, he was actually pretty good. As I said in his season recap:

Not only did Samardzija come back healthy, he had — based on ERA+ — the third-best season of his career. If we ignore his 132 ERA+ from 2011 when he was strictly a reliever with the Cubs, then his 119 ERA+ equals his second best season as a starter (best was 2014 with a 125 ERA+ between the Cubs and A’s).

This comes in the same season that the home run rates skyrocketed yet again. It could’ve been a disaster for a guy with a career HR/9 of 1.1. Instead, of the 28 allowed, just seven came with runners on base. 21 solo home runs allowed (and a 1.4 HR/9 overall) are a lot, and the 28 total is the third-worst mark of his career, but [...] It was a year for allowing dingers.

No, Jeff Samardzija isn’t a secret ace or underappreciated pitcher or anything hot take-y like that, but he has been consistently solid in a sport that really, truly hates everyone who plays it and wants nothing more than to crush attempted talent. Samardzija might hate analytics, but the 35-year old is a Statcast darling of sorts, and as he’s already shown, his stuff will play in the modern game. He’s one of the few Giants who can make that case.

Projection

IP: 165
ERA: 4.04
K: 138
BB: 44
HR: 25

Traded

If healthy, yes.