Jeff Samardzija is on his way to becoming one of the better pitchers in the game. After a breakout 2012, Samardzija has continued to open eyes to start 2013, striking out 40.7% of the batters he’s faced in his first 13 2/3 innings pitched.
Of course, we’re only two starts into the season, so jumping to any conclusions based solely off his 2013 results would be a foolish act. However, I’m quite confident that 2012 was no mirage and big things are in store for Samardzija.
After listening to a recent podcast in which Joe Sheehan claimed Samardzija feasted on weaker competition, I was intrigued. Had Samardzija’s success really been due to facing the dregs of the National League? Wanting to know just how much Samardzija was thriving on weak bats, I decided to break down his 2012 performances based on his opponents.
Historically, OBP is the best indicator for offensive success, often correlating closely with runs scored. Going just off runs scored can be slightly misleading, so I’ll trust OBP any day of the week. I’ll avoid removing Samardzija’s three starts towards the end of June in which he experimented with a curveball (an experiment that ended badly), since it just complicates the matter. Those games happened, and it’s not really fair to pick and choose which games are worthy of being included.
In 2012, Samardzija made 28 starts against 17 different opponents. Of those 28 starts, 15 came against teams with an OBP greater than or equal to the league average of .319*. In 94 innings against those teams, Samardzija struck out 27% of the batters he faced, walked 7.2%, allowed a slash line of .249/.303/.373 and an ERA of 3.35. Those numbers are actually in line or better than his full season statistics.
*Those teams would be Arizona, Atlanta, Colorado, Milwaukee, Minnesota, San Diego (Really? you ask. Yes really. Surprising stuff.), San Francisco (kinda surprised by this, as well), St. Louis (best offense in baseball) and Washington.
Samardzija’s numbers were actually worse against teams in the bottom half of the majors in OBP (22.5% K, 8.4% BB, 4.35 ERA), mainly due to an awful start against the Marlins early in the year and a terrible performance against the Mets in his final June start, his last start before finally junking his curveball for the season.
Samardzija faced the best offense in all of baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals, three times and fared quite well. In 17 2/3 innings, the Cardinals coaxed a lot of walks (11.5% walk rate), but outside of that, Samardzija managed to limit the damage done by the Cardinals potent offense. He struck out 26.9% of the Cardinals he faced, had a solid 3.57 ERA and limited them to a .250/.333/.294 slash line.
Samardzija isn’t a flash in the pan who took advantage of playing in the NL Central. Scouts and stat heads both tend to agree that something clicked prior to the 2012 season with Samardzija. With another offseason to work on his craft in the books, Samardzija has come out of the gates in 2013 in impressive fashion. Granted, he dominated a shockingly bad Pittsburgh offense on Opening Day and took advantage of a strikeout happy (but very potent) Atlanta roster. But he’s shown he can go to battle against the best offenses in the game and come out on top.
Samardzija undoubtedly has his warts. He needs to develop some consistency, especially when it comes to giving out free passes and allowing the long ball. But when you delve into his 2012 numbers, it clearly disproves any notion that Samardzija solely capitalized on facing the Pittsburghs and Houstons of the game while falling apart against elite bats.