Jeff Samardzija is Inigo MontoyaJeff 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.

  • TWC

    Two questions on your methodology: 1) why OBP instead of wOBA? And 2) did you use the opposing team’s OBP numbers or the OBP numbers of the batters that Samardzija actually faced?

    • Cyranojoe

      Good article, good questions.

    • Sahadev Sharma

      Both good and valid questions… Before I answer them, I’ll let you know I removed a line from this that said this is just a quick analysis and by no means perfect, but I believe it does the job of debunking any notion that he took advantage of bad offenses on the schedule.

      Simply put, I used OBP because it was easier on me. And I used the team OBP, I didn’t break down only the batters he faced. My guess is that the results wouldn’t change much if I did either of your suggestions. They may actually move more in his favor since he probably faced the starting lineup more often than the bench players/pitchers who often bring down a team’s OBP.

      • ProfessorCub

        Yeah – without running the numbers myself (’cause, you know, I’m lazy like that), it appears that your sample size is large enough that the team vs. individual OBP wouldn’t move the needle that much…and certainly not enough to invalidate your larger point: Shark is good.

      • TWC

        “… this is just a quick analysis and by no means perfect, but I believe it does the job of debunking any notion that he took advantage of bad offenses on the schedule…”

        I agree, and I think it was a worthwhile exercise to perform! He faced 723 batters last season. While it’s not a perfect sample, it’s getting close to a reasonable number.

      • Cyranojoe

        Totally agree, and thanks for the write-up. Just gets me curious about the crunchier parts of the data, to see what bubbles up…

  • rich gahalla

    todays lineup sounds interesting… at 3rd base is… clevenger!!

    • cubfanincardinalland

      Kid finally gets a start, against Matt Cain. Thanks coach, no problem.

  • Sahadev Sharma

    Ok, so using wOBA, eliminates the Padres and Braves and adds the Reds, Red Sox and White Sox (just going with the top 15 teams). Slash line changes ever so slightly to .245/.304/.390 with a 25.7% K & 7.5% BB and a 3.94 ERA. Again, not deviating too far from his season stats.

    The point of this exercise was to prove that he wasn’t feasting on poor offenses. I’m confident that any way we go about this will support my belief that he’s a good pitcher, not someone who beats up on bad teams.

  • Nomar’s Left Glove

    Brett, fantastic article. Do you think that The Shark has the stuff to be an “Ace”? I’m very cautious of calling any Cubs pitcher an “Ace”, but there are times that he looks so ridiculously dominant. Typically, I would consider an “Ace” to be the type of pitcher that can consistently shut down good offensive teams, he can.

    • JDBlades

      Brett didn’t write the article

    • Sahadev Sharma

      Actually, I wrote this piece… Calling a pitcher an ‘ace,’ which I equate to a true number one starter, is difficult for me. In my opinion there are MAYBE 10 true aces in baseball. For me, Samardzija has catapulted himself into the number 2 category. He needs to do a little more to solidify himself and he can get into the top tier of the 2s (Cain, Cueto, etc.). Then you get into the discussion of what these types need to do to become aces.

      Like I said, the list of aces is short: Price, Kershaw, Verlander, Felix… they’re the easy ones to put on the list. Then there’s personal preference and what your standards are for ‘allowing’ someone to join the list. I put Strasburg on the list because I’ve seen him dominate and believe it’ll happen consistently as long as he’s healthy. Hamels and Cain are two guys I waver on, part of it is just my gut, part of it is I just don’t see the elite consistency of a Verlander or Kershaw with them. They’re damn good and can lead a rotation, but there’s another level to become an ace, IMO.

      Bottom line is, Samardzija has the talent to be mentioned among the best pitchers in the game, he just needs a little more fine-tuning. Another point that everyone needs to realize is that you don’t need a Verlander-type to win a World Series. As long as your team has some balance and solid pitching, you can win a championship with a very good 2 leading the way.

      • wvcubsfan

        This is something that I find interesting; the definition of an “ace”. It seems to vary depending on the context of the conversation and who you are having the conversation with.

        If it’s a true number one pitcher, then wouldn’t that lead one to think that there should be 32 “aces”, since every team by definition has a #1 starter.

        Or is it the best (insert number) pitchers in the entire league?

        I think I fall into the latter category and my personal number would be 20. Probably because I’m old enough to remember when colleges were ranked in the top 20 and not 25.

        I don’t think Shark is there quite yet, and I would agree that at this time he is in the next tier down.

        • Kyle

          (nitpick: there are only 30 MLB teams).

          I think the way “ace” is used inside baseball is stupid, but it is what it is. When people inside baseball use the term “ace” or “No. 1” pitcher, they are talking about a handful of guys. Less than a dozen.

          Sort of like the difference between “above-average” and “plus.” I don’t like it, but I have to live with it.

          • wvcubsfan

            Stupid me, I knew that.

          • SirCub

            By the Top-30 standard though, Shark is there already.

      • Nomar’s Left Glove

        There is a pretty good chance that no one is still following this post anymore, but I wanted to apologize Sahadev. I read this yesterday and finally got a chance to listen to your podcast yesterday. I knew by the way that you were discussing this issue that you were the one that had written this article. Either way, it is a very good article, thanks!

  • TonyP

    Great article Sahadev!!!

  • YourResidentJag

    Well, he has said the Twins shouldn’t have given the CF to Aaron Hicks. While one could argue, Hicks isn’t exactly lighting it up offensively, really, Joe, are the Twins all in this year to win it?

  • FarmerTanColin

    Makes ya wonder how much research some of the talking heads do. I’m not familiar with Joe Sheehan but that’s a pretty bold statement that a quick study shut down pretty well.