What’s To Be Done With This Shark?
While this will be another season that passes out of the kidneys and into the toilet with barely a splash or a memory years from now, there were some things to watch. One of the big ones was how Jeff Samardzija would be in his second full year as a starter, after a pretty decent fist of it in his debut season in the rotation (but that’s about all it was).
Yesterday, Mark Gonzales had some notes from Dale Sveum about how important it is that both Shark and Travis Wood reach the 200 IP mark this season. I guess I get it. Neither have. It’s kind of a benchmark of stability. After all, you can’t suck and reach that plateau (usually) as you’d keep getting pulled early from starts. See Edwin Jackson this year as evidence on the other side. But I don’t know that reaching 200 innings matters much if you’re leaking a fuckload of oil to get there.
And make no mistake, Shark is leaking. In his last six starts, he’s given up more than four earned runs in in four of them. He’s been rocked in a few as well, giving up 9 to the Phils, and somehow six to the Marlins yesterday.
Worse yet, pretty much every number is not as good as it was last year. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, his ERA and FIP have risen as well. He’s not been unlucky as Jackson has at times, as his BABIP and left on base percentage are both pretty reasonable (.313 and 71%). His ground ball percentage is even up a little bit, and his home runs per fly ball surrendered is almost exactly what it was last year.
The non-stat eye sees the same thing it saw in April. When in trouble, Shark tries to throw even harder and harder and eventually is trying to put his catcher through the stands and over to Racine Ave. His fastball loses movement, and his splitter and slider flatten out. Shark needs to learn how to make those breaking pitches even better when he’s in trouble, as that will make his fastball pop when he needs it.
And of course, this leads to the question of what the Cubs will do with him this winter. Two seasons as a starter isn’t enough to give up on a guy, but it’s also a time you could still sell on him without the league having totally degraded his value. There’s no contractual pressure, he’s under control for two more years. But his salary through arbitration is going to leap up from it’s $2.4 million this year, even if he’s a guy who just “takes the ball.”
And that’s really all you can envision Samardzija being. That’s what got Jackson his contract, because Epstoyer knew that he would at worst get out there every fifth day and at least keep the team within touching distance each game (too bad that didn’t happen). Jackson wasn’t supposed to dazzle, and even though this year has been a disaster, more likely the majority of his stay in Chicago will be more solid. But not spectacular.
If that’s all you can hope for from Samardzija, then I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that the Cubs should see what’s out there for him this winter. There’s already kind of a jam in the bottom of the rotation. Shark, Jackson, and Wood are all #3-#4 starters really. Jake Arrieta, Chris Rusin, and the most advanced pitching prospect Kyle Hendricks are all going to vie for other rotation spots next year. If Shark ends up being about a 2.5 WAR pitcher this year, how much worse would the Cubs be off if they turned that spot over to Hendricks? One win? And that doesn’t include whatever they might get back for Samardzija.
The argument with Samardzija has been that because he split time with football and then started in the pen for four years, he doesn’t have the mileage on his arm. So the fact that he turns 29 in January isn’t as big of a concern as it would be with other starters. But how much does that extend? He’ll break down at 32 now instead of 29? Three years? Four years?
Shark’s always going to take the ball. But if he can be traded in for a younger model who might be able to do a little more than that? The view here is that you do that.