I think there are reasonable debates to be had about the trade value of Jeff Samardzija, assuming the Chicago Cubs try to deal him this month. Much of Samardzija’s value is tied up in projection, which is a rare thing for a 29-year-old. He’s flashing front-of-the-rotation results to this to pair with front-of-the-rotation peripherals and scouting over the previous two years, but it’s a relatively limited track record.
On the other hand, he’s pitching well, projects well, and comes with a year and a half of cheap team control, with the ability to impact two pennant races (the first of which the acquiring team will already know it is in). In a market that needs pitching, Samardzija is among the top options. We can debate the precise value there, but it’s fair to label it some iteration of “strong.”
That doesn’t stop anonymous folks from trying to knock that value down, however. Bob Elliott recently quoted an anonymous NL GM who offered really dubious thoughts undercutting Jeff Samardzija’s trade value. And now Joel Sherman cites an AL East executive, who says, “[Samardzija] is very good, but he is being marketed as great and he is not great. I think you have to add something to his ERA going from the NL Central to the AL East, and he has never been a starting pitcher in a pennant race. The Cubs want an ace return [in a trade], and I don’t think you are getting an ace.”
To be sure, I don’t think the critique there is overly harsh, and the substance is debatable. Where I have a problem, however, is the source of the quote.
You can argue until you’re blue in the face about Samardzija’s value, but here’s the problem with an evaluation coming from an AL East exec – any AL East exec: it’s subject to bias. It is probably a reflection of self-interest. There are incentives to exaggerate Samardzija’s downside. How do I know these things about any anonymous AL East executive?
Consider that if the executive is with the Blue Jays or Orioles, there’s an obvious conflict of interest/posturing problem, since they are known to be interested in acquiring Samardzija. Sherman says it isn’t the Yankees, but, even if it were, same issue. If the executive is with the Red Sox, whether they’re interested in acquiring Samardzija or interested in selling their own pieces (Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, for example), they’ve got an incentive to drive down the perceived value of Samardzija. The same is true of the Rays because of David Price.
Putting it another way, if an anonymous Cubs executive were quoted as saying, “Jeff Samardzija is clearly an ace who’s just now breaking out. He’s worth 15 top prospects, at least. And even then, we’d be giving him away,” how much credence would you give to that statement?
In tandem with, and as a preamble to, the executive’s questionable thoughts, Sherman writes: “But after two brilliant months to open the year, Samardzija had a 5.45 ERA and .879 opponents’ OPS in six June starts.”
If you’re going to hang Samardzija by his June numbers – if an arbitrary subset of starts means anything, that is – at least hang him by the right numbers. As I wrote recently, saying that Samardzija had a “bad June,” or aggregating his June starts to make it look like he’s suddenly slumping, is totally bogus, in large part because of one disastrous June 1 start in Miller Park, during which the Brewers seemed to know everything he was throwing before he threw it (*cough* *cough*).
If you chop out that Milwaukee start – which seems just as arbitrary as including it, since we’re acting like “June” means something that “May” or “June 6” don’t – Samardzija’s “post-June 1” numbers are excellent: 3.60 ERA over 30 innings, 3.10 FIP, 2.70 xFIP, 27.7% K rate, 6.2% BB rate. And the 3.60 ERA comes despite a .363 BABIP against, a low 15.0% line drive rate, a scant 69.6% left on base rate, and an unsustainable high 14.3% HR/FB rate. In other words, in his starts after June 1, Samardzija is posting a 3.60 ERA despite probably being super unlucky.
I’d like to think that any executive worth his salt already knows all of this. Further, he knows that five or six starts stacked against the entirety of Samardzija’s career (and whatever your scouts are telling you) do not a decision make. So, I’m not too worried about that piece of the equation.
While you’re in the rumor mood, don’t forget to do your part to force me to blog for 37 hours straight at the Trade Deadline this year.