Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) walks off the mound during the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds at HoHoKam Park. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
Jeff Samardzija is the hardest pitcher to analyze in baseball, and he has a shot to make the Cubs' rotation.
Jeff Samardzija is the weirdest pitcher in baseball.
No, no. That's not what I meant. Well, okay, sure, there's something to the idea that Samardzija looks like he throws a level-43 fastball with a 12-sided baseball, but I'm coming from a strictly analytical standpoint. Samardzija is the weirdest pitcher to analyze in baseball.
That's Samardzija's first full minor-league season. He was supposed to be a flame-thrower, and the Cubs paid a premium to keep him away from a potential NFL career. The flame-thrower managed the strikeout rate of Kirk Rueter. In the low minors. If he was a prospect, it was because of scouting alone. But at least the control was good.
Those are Samardzija's last two full minor-league seasons. In his first AAA season, he had the lowest walk rate of his career. In his repeat season, when conventional wisdom suggested that his performance would improve, his walk rate doubled. And while this was going on, his strikeout rate increased dramatically. He was shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen, and in his 19 innings in the majors, he walked 18 batters.
Last season, Samardzija had his best season as a professional, with a 2.97 ERA in 88 relief innings. He struck out almost a batter per inning. And he also struggled mightily with his control, walking 50 batters. He was the 19th pitcher in the past 20 years to pitch more than 80 innings and walk more than five batters for every nine innings he pitched. Most of the other pitchers didn't have long, distinguished careers.
Yet now Samardzija is looking to make the Cubs' rotation. And in ten spring innings, he's struck out nine without a walk.
Without a walk. The sample size is minute. But I'd wager that it's the first ten-inning stretch of walk-free baseball in his career.
To recap: Samardzija couldn't strike out a batter if his life depended on it when he became a professional, but at least he had decent control until he didn't, which is when he started striking people out, which was a skill that improved as he threw fewer strikes.
As a professional baseball nerd, I'm obligated to have an opinion about everything, even if I rarely know what I'm talking about. I've never seen Tyler Pastornicky hit or field, but I have an opinion on the Braves' decision to start him. I've watched a few innings of Matt Moore in my life, but I can tell you what I think about his extension with the Rays.
But you can't -- absolutely can't -- tell me what to think about Jeff Samardzija's bid to make the Cubs' rotation. He's the weirdest pitcher in baseball to analyze. I didn't even check out his FanGraphs page. I'm scared there will be something like a 0.1 percent swinging-strike rate and a 59 percent called-strike rate that'll make me have to add another 500 words. Maybe Samardzija's conversion is a pending disaster, and maybe it's a stroke of inspired genius. Don't know. Maybe if we just ignore the weirdness of Samardzija, he'll leave us alone.
Yeah, that's probably for the best.