The case for trading for Jeff Samardzija
Last week I discussed why the Orioles should consider bringing back former Oriole Jake Arrieta. Statistically this would make a ton of sense, but realistically there are more than numbers at play here. Bringing back Arrieta was always a long shot, if it even had any odds of happening at all. There was a lot of discussion on the board about the merits and downfalls of bringing a guy like Arrieta back, and ultimately the consensus that was reached was that there was no way this could or would or should happen.
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That doesn’t mean that the Cubs aren’t a good match for the O’s when it comes to trades though. They have another pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, who could be an attractive trade target for a team. Samardzija is a hot commodity among MLB teams, and it’s easy to see why. 2014 has been a very good year for Samardzija. Below are his numbers over his career to give some context to his performance and trade value:
The chart above is interctive, so you can select different stats to see how they’ve changed over the course of his pro career. One important note is that any serious comparisons should only be made from 2011 on, as that season saw him throw 88 innings, with each subsequent season having Samardzija throw more innings. As you can see, Samardzija has had a terrific 2014, with clear improvement across multiple areas. There are a few tabs that I’ll speak to specifically:
Age – Samardzija is 29 this season, largely a product of his late age upon being drafted. Granted, he won’t have as many innings on his arm as a 29 year old normally would because of his football career, but it’s up for debate how much upside is left in there.
K/9 & BB/9 – Samardzija is actually striking out fewer batters per nine innings in 2014 than he has in any of the previous 3 seasons. This would normally be seen as a very bad sign, but Samardzija is also walking fewer batters than ever before. While his strikeout rate declining should be concerning, the declining walk rate has kept his K/BB ratio about even over the past 4 years.
ERA & FIP – While Samardzija’s ERA has hovered around 4 over the past two seasons he’s dropped it down to under 3 so far this season. That improvement seemed to come out of nowhere, but if you look at the chart for FIP you can see that he’s always hovered around 3.50 over the past three seasons. This year it’s down to 3.07 so far, but that half a run jump in FIP is a lot easier to believe than a 1.5 run drop in ERA might make you think.
FIP- – The only reason I mention this tab is because it shows that Samardzija’s FIP has always been better than league average. While his 4.34 ERA from 2013 might make some scoff at the attention he’s received so far, his FIP- really illustrates that he’s been an above average pitcher for a few years now.
There’s one stat that I neglected to include in the above chart, and that’s because it’s arguably the most important stat in understanding Samardzija’s rise. As a result, I elected to give it it’s own chart below:
The above chart shows Samardzija’s GB% over his career. From 2011 through 2014 Samardzija’s groundball rate has increased in every season. This season he’s posted a career high 52.50% groundball rate which has been a huge boon to his success on the mound. Ultimately his ability to get groundballs has meant that damage is limited, and batters are likely making weaker contact against Samardzija than they had in previous seasons. If you want to know why Jeff Samardzija has been successful in 2014 there are two reasons:
He’s attacking the zone more (fewer Ks, fewer BBs) and he’s getting a lot more groundballs (higher GB%).
As a result Samardzija makes a lot of sense for the Orioles. The O’s starting issues are well documented, but here are two stats that illuminate them. The O’s are 24th in MLB for ERA from their starters (4.20) and 29th in FIP (4.53) suggesting they’ve been even worse than their ERA suggests. On top of that only the Indians’, Rockies’, and Rangers’ starters have pitched fewer innings than the O’s among teams playing at least 80 games. what should come as a surprise to no one is that the O’s starters are in the bottom 5 of the league when it comes to IP per start.
The O’s starters have averaged 5.2 IP per start this season while Samardzija has averged 6.1 IP. While 2 outs doesn’t seem like much, it actually is. Over the course of 14 starts (approximately the remainder of the season) that equates to one full game worth of outs that Samardzija will record instead of the bullpen. That’s just replacing average O’s starter with Samardzija, but removing a worse pitcher for Shark would result in even greater savings on bullpen usage.
Samardzija would also likely be successful pitching in front of the O’s good infield defense considering the rate at which he gets ground balls. From a fit standpoint, Samardzija is about as good as it gets.
The price tag though could be an issue. Samardzija is likely to command a top return, especially when a competitor within the division is eyeing one of the top pitching prizes on the trade block as well. It’s likely that landing Samardzija would require moving one of the O’s top 3 prospects (Gausman, Bundy, Harvey). In the odd event that it doesn’t require one of those pitchers it will certainly be a package revolving around Eduardo Rodriguez (the O’s #4 prospect), Jonathan Schoop, and other young high-upside talent.
Samardzija isn’t exensive yet as he’s being paid just $5.345 Million this season, with 2015 being his final yer under contract to his current team. It’s likely that in his final arbitration season in 2015 Samardzija’s salary will sit just under the $10 Million. After that Samardzija is a free agent and he’s going to be looking for top dollar on the free market. He already turned down a 5/$85 Million contract offer from the Cubs that was certainly fair, though likely not market value. As a result, the team trading for Samardzija should understand that unless they’re willing to pay top dollar Samardzija is a rental for one and a half seasons.
2014 is shaping up to be yet another season where the O’s are going to be within a few games of the playoff race for much of the second half. Currently they have a 27% shot at making the playoffs, something that suggests adding a guy like Samardzija could be what they need to push them over the edge. If that comes at the cost of a top prospect like Gausman, Bundy, or Harvey then the O’s would need to make the playoffs to justify such a move. It’s a big risk, big reward type play for Dan Duquette and the front office, but there’s plenty of reason to be happy should the O’s acquire Jeff Samardzija.