MLB: What should Giants fans expect from Jeff Samardzija?

(Photo Credit: Eric Heath)

After starting the season on the disabled list with a pectoral strain, San Francisco Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija is expected to make his season debut tonight against the Los Angeles Angels and while he may not replicate his best years, Giants fans should expect another solid season from the lanky right-hander.

Throughout his career, Samardzija has consistently performed at an above average level. Even during his worst season as a starter, he recorded a 4.96 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 4.31 xFIP, along with a 2.5 WAR. That's not bad for a bad season. In every other season as a full-time starter, he has posted a FIP and xFIP below 4. That said, can he have another above average season? 

A pitching enigma

Throughout his career, Samardzija has consistently struck hitters out. He was never on the same level as former Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer, but from 2012 to 2014, he averaged 8.82 strikeouts per nine innings, good enough for 10th in majors among all starters who threw at least 300 innings during that yearlong span. However, his K/9 plummeted to 6.89 in 2015. He has gradually built his K/9 back up though, posting a 7.39 K/9 in 2016 and an 8.88 K/9 in 2017.  Now That Samardzija is 33 years old , the obvious might appear to be a decline in velocity from aging, but the that is not the case with Samardzija.

Since he became a starter in 2012, he has thrown at least 200 innings in every season except during that 2012 season. Despite the heavy use, Samardzija has not lost too much fastball velocity. According to MLB Statcast, his four-seamer averaged 94.3 miles per hour in 2017, equal to his 2016 velocity and only 0.2 miles per hour less than his average velocity in 2015. While 94.3 is still harder than average, he has experienced a slight decline from his best seasons from 2012 to 2014. Through those three seasons, his fastball had an average velocity of 95.4 miles per hour. His two-seam fastball, which he threw more often than his four-seam fastball in 2017, averaged 94.3 miles per hour last season. Despite that, the average velocity had not dipped below 95 miles per hour since before he became a starting pitcher. His velocity declined, but not enough to cause him to significantly alter his ability to miss bats.

When Samardzija’s strikeout rate went down in 2015, his walk rate also decreased. After he recorded BB/9 of 2.89 and 3.29 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, he dropped his BB/9 to 1.76 in 2014. Since 2014, his walk rate has never risen above 2.4, and he recorded a career-low 1.39 BB/9 in 2017. Samardzija has progressively worked more in the strike zone. This tendency impacts his ability to strike hitters out, but it also means he gives up less free bases.

Final thoughts

Through the years, Samardzija has become a more mature pitcher. While he may not have some of the most unhittable stuff in the majors, he has learned how to control the zone better. He may not provide another All-Star caliber performance like he did in 2014, but he could provide the Giants with another steady arm

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