Jeff Samardzija (Sale’s Right Hand Man)
Mar 27, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) throws in the first inning during a spring training game against the Chicago Cubs at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Arguably Rick Hahn’s biggest move of the offseason, the trade for right-hander Jeff Samardzija took Chicago’s rotation from above-average to downright elite. I classify him as Chris Sale’s right-hand man, because that’s exactly what he’ll be, giving the White Sox one of baseball’s top 1-2 punches.
Just think that Samardzija will absorb all of the right-handed starts that were given to Scott Carroll, Felipe Paulino, and Erik Johnson in ’14. That’s going to make a huge difference this season, considering a weakness in the rotation now becomes a major strength.
At the number two spot in the rotation, Samardzija pushes Jose Quintana to the number three slot, giving the White Sox quite the trio.
According to JJ Stankevitz of CSN, it might even be baseball’s best.
"“No American League team has a better trio of starting pitchers than the White Sox, at least on paper. Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana accounted for more FanGraphs wins above replacement (14.8) in 2014 than any team’s top three starters heading into this season, topping the Clayton Kershaw-led Dodgers (14.6) and division rival Detroit (12.8).”"
Of course, with the Nationals adding Max Scherzer, the White Sox now stand second fiddle in this regard, but if they are indeed to pass the three-headed giant from the nation’s capital, Samardzija will need to have a big season.
The good news for White Sox fans, is that “the Shark” is poised to do just that.
Samardzija didn’t even become a starter with the Chicago Cubs until 2012, so he’s actually relatively new to the role. His 2013 season showed promising numbers in a 9.0 SO/9 ratio and his surpassing of the 200 innings plateau.
Last season was Samardzija’s breakout year as he finally put together his frontline stuff into an actual ace caliber season. He was good for a 2.99 ERA, along with 202 strikeouts and his first all-star appearance.
I believe there is actually room for Samardzija to build on his ’14 numbers, and that’s likely what Rick Hahn and company thought as well when he marked Samardzija as their No. 1 pitching target entering the offseason.
Jeff Samardzija is poised to have a big 2015
After his trade to Oakland, Samardzija posted an outstanding 8.25 SO/W ratio over 16 starts, hopefully a sign of things to come. For perspective, Sale had a 5.33 SO/W ratio last season. While the 8+ ratio Samardzija posted last year is unsustainable, it at least paints the picture that his control is improving, one of the reasons he finally found success as an everyday starter.
The only concern with Samardzija is his propensity to give up the long ball, and in a park like U.S. Cellular field that can be a dangerous tendency. Samardzija’s spring showed mixed results as the control was there (9.0 SO/W ratio) but his ability to keep the ball in the park was not (allowed nine home runs).
While Samardzija throws quite a few fastballs, his home run problem may be a product of inconsistent command of his splitter, a topic Fangraph’s Eno Sarris explores much more deeply.
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Samarzija is entering his contract year and is a fierce competitor, so all of the ingredients are lining up for him to have a massive year, but he’ll need to keep the ball in the park to do so.
Samardzija builds on a strong ’14 season and hones his control even more, upping his strike out totals. His 0.931 WHIP in the AL last year is a preview of what’s to come, and he becomes a nightmare to opposing hitters.
With even further improved control Samardzja gives the White Sox a second ace in the rotation. He even contributes to an intriguing Cy Young race that includes his rotation mate Sale. (And he signs an in-season extension. Wishful thinking here.)
The nine spring training home runs were merely a prelude to Samardzija’s impending home run struggles in ’15, and the opposition feasts on him at U.S. Cellular field. Last season starts to look like an outlier and his ERA balloons to 4.00+
My Prediction: 16-7 record/ 3.15 ERA/ 220 K (All-Star)
Next: One of the most underrated pitchers around