Saturday, December 5, 2015

Is Jeff Samardzija about to be vastly overpaid?

A source confirmed to Bruce Levine that Jeff Samardzija has a five-year, $90 million contract on the table from an undisclosed team.  While Samardzija's representatives are informing teams that he has at least one $100 million offer on the table also from an undisclosed team.

With the exception of 2014 Jeff Samardzija has been a less than adequate option for teams as a starting pitcher but despite this his value is expected to be around $18 million a year on the free agent market which makes sense if you calculate it using $7 million per 1 WAR but $5 million per 1 WAR makes more sense to me.  Using this it would put his value at around $13.5 million per year considering in 3 of the last 4 seasons he has put up a WAR of 2.7 and I realize he would not likely accept that which is why I previously predicted him receiving 5-years $77.5 million.

For the sake of argument let's only look at seasons where Samardzija threw more that 50 innings so from 2011 on.  Based off this he put up a career worst FIP of 4.23 and a career high xFIP of 4.31 in 2015 while putting up a career low K% of 17.9%.  But why might this be.

In 2015 Samardzija's average fastball velocity was only slightly down at 94.3 MPH compared to 94.6 in both 2013 and 2014 so at first glance this might not appear to be a real problem but that's not completely true (he threw 108 pitches 96+ in 2015 down from 195 in 2014 and 222 in 2013).  This average fastball velocity is in the same area of Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha and his fastball results whiffs and called strikes at about the same rates:

Shelby Miller: Whiffs: 10.6%, Called Strikes: 16.0%
Michael Wacha: Whiffs: 9.4%, Called Strikes: 17.4%
Jeff Samardzija: Whiffs: 9.1%, Called Strikes: 16.2%

The difference then becomes what happens if the pitch doesn't result in a strike, which is where Samardzija falls behind.  Miller allowed hits on his fastball 5.9% of the time, Wacha allowed hits on his fastball 5.5% of the time and then there was Samardzija who allowed hits on his fastball 7.4% of the time.  If you look at their four-seam fastballs there is an interesting difference.  While their average velocities are all about the same, the average perceived speed show a significant difference.

                    Wacha: Average Speed: 94.55, Average Perceived Speed: 95.88, Difference: +1.33
                     Miller: Average Speed: 94.54, Average Perceived Speed: 95.41, Difference: +0.87
                 Samardzija: Average Speed: 94.57, Average Perceived Speed: 94.39, Difference: -0.18

This tells that while they have similar actual velocities, Samardzija's fastball appears slower to the batter which could be causing it to be hit more often.  While this could be one of the factors causing Samardzija to have below average effectiveness on his fastball, his fastball isn't the only problem.  His slider which has been an effective pitch for him since 2011 fell off in 2015, which is shown in the following chart that shows pitch runs above average.  His slider which has consistently been his best pitch throughout his career became his least effective pitch in 2015 (-6.6 runs above average) while he threw it a career high 24.6% of the time.  And his fastball returned to the ineffectiveness it was for the majority of his career (-4.5 runs above average) while he threw it a career low 39.6% of the time, 15.6% less often than 2014.  In fact his only pitch that was effective in 2015 was his cutter and it was barely better than average at 0.3.

Overall Samardzija produced a higher swinging rate on both pitches outside the zone (34.8%) and inside the zone (69.3%) in 2015 which allowed him to produce an overall swinging rate of 51.4%, 2.2% above his previous career high of 49.2%.  And while on first thought this might seem like a positive it wasn't in 2015.  This is because he allowed career high contact rates on both pitches outside the zone (67.5%) and inside the zone (87.8%), which resulted in overall contact rate of 80.7%.  These numbers aren't just increases from previous years they are significant jumps of 4.4%, 2.2% and 3.4% from the rates he produced in 2014.  And while those rates increased, his first pitch strike rate dropped from 65.5% in 2014 to 62.4% in 2015 and while this 62.4% is still the second highest rate of his career it did not result in anywhere near the level of production he put up in 2014 when he threw a first pitch strike 3.1% more often.  Samardzija also produced swinging strikes at a career low 9.8% a drop of 1.3% from 2014 and 2.3% less than his career high of 12.1% in 2012.

So while it is not truly known whether Jeff Samardzija will put up numbers similar to 2014 or similar to the majority of his career in the 2016 season, teams seem willing to take the risk on him.  In my opinion having someone eat innings like he does is extremely important but you could find someone to eat innings and put up similar production for much less money, just look at Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Ian Kennedy and even Bartolo Colon and Alfredo Simon for that matter.

Update: Jeff Samardzija has signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the San Francisco Giants            

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