2012 Player Profile: Jeff Samardzija

Jeff Samardzija showed promise in his first major league season as a starter. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Innings Pitched: 174.2 (28 G-28 GS)
2012 Pitching (all per 9 IP): 4.07 RA, 8.1 H, 2.9 BB, 1.0 HR, 9.3 K
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 3.4
2013 Contract Status: Signed (Arbitration, First Year)
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): Four-seam (96), Sinker (95), Cutter (92), Splitter (86), Slider (85)

Perhaps nobody had higher expectations for Jeff Samardzija’s return to the rotation than the pitcher himself.

Samardzija was the Cubs’ most durable, and frequently most effective, starting pitcher this season. And he showed dramatic improvement in several areas that portend continued success.

Chief among them was his improved control. He walked just 7.8 percent of the batters he faced, significantly lower than the 13 percent rate he had in 2011, when he had a successful year out of the bullpen. His strikeouts increased from 23 percent to 25 percent, and his ground ball rate went from 43 percent to 47 percent. Samardzija leveraged his stuff better than before, even while doubling his innings before the Cubs shut him down after his Sept. 9 start.

To take a closer look at his arsenal, we’ll leverage PITCHf/x data as tagged by the excellent folks at Brooks Baseball and Baseball Prospectus (player card). Our graphs here present pitch usage as variants of fastballs (blue) and offspeed (green).

Both of Samardzija’s fastballs sit in the mid- to high-90s, and his sinker is made even more impressive by his ability to run a few extra inches of movement while matching the velocity of his four-seamer. Overall, he likes to move pitches away from batters—using more sinkers and splitters that fade away from lefties, while employing the cutter and slider against righties.

The splitter is Samardzija’s No. 1 weapon, and his improved command of his fastball has made the split even more devastating. Samardzija used the splitter, which averages 86 MPH, 20 percent of the time versus lefties and 12 percent against righties. He rarely threw it on the first pitch but employed it a third of the time when ahead in the count.

And there was specific improvement with the pitch too: Comparing 2011 to 2012, his splitter was called for a ball less often (46% to 37%), got more swings (49% to 59%) and got more whiffs when a batter did swing (43% to 46%). The last number has been part of a career improvement—in 2009 and 2010, Samardzija’s whiff/swing rate on the splitter was 24 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

All of which is to say that the right-hander’s improvement has been real and is likely sustainable. Samardzija, who turns 28 in January, is under team control through the 2015 season. He still stands to improve his consistency, but digging into the components of his 2012 campaign suggests he could be a workhorse atop the rotation for years to come.

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