Spiegel: Why Samardzija's gamble failed miserably

  • After giving up 10 runs in his last start, White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija has seen his ERA balloon to 5.27 this season.

    After giving up 10 runs in his last start, White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija has seen his ERA balloon to 5.27 this season. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/18/2015 4:10 PM

Jeff Samardzija is broken.

It happened at a terrible time for him. The man has been anticipating free agency for the better part of three seasons.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He'll still get well paid, perhaps four years and $60 million? But that's 25 million less than he reportedly turned down from the Cubs last June, and probably half what he was hoping to receive.

David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, Zach Greinke (if he opts out), and Johnny Cueto will get to the $100 million mark and beyond. But not Jeff.

How has this happened? There are two roads to explore.

Remember early Cubs starter Samardzija, who seemed emotionally volatile and occasionally fragile? He would sometimes encounter a problematic inning, then let the game slip away.

That's what the second half 2015 has felt like -- a macrocosm of one awful start. He got in trouble, and has not been able to dig out. This has coincided with the passing of the trade deadline, so letdown and focus are intangible factors to consider.

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Statistically, Jeff has changed his repertoire. Vastly.

Samardzija has primarily used a sinking fastball, 4-seam fastball, slider, splitter, and a cutter. He toyed with a curve and a changeup early in his career, but both are long gone.

He started to use the cut fastball in 2010. According to Fangraphs.com, here are the percentages of cutters among all his pitches thrown, year-by-year: 7.7, 7.0, 9.1, 10.8, 12.3, and 23.5

Yes, in 2015 he has thrown more than double the percentage of that pitch than the rest of career. His overall fastball percentage in 2015 is a career low 39.9 percent. He has never been below 53 percent in any season.

Samardzija is one of only six qualifying starters who have thrown less than 40 percent fastballs, and one of those is knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Did all these fastballs become cutters at pitching coach Don Cooper's urging? Did Samardzija decide on his own to change his approach this drastically?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On our WSCR 670-AM radio show this week, Steve Stone said, "I don't like to see guys with big fastballs depend so much on the cutter," Stone continued, "because a big, well-located fastball is still such an excellent pitch. Some will tell you it's the best pitch we have, especially one with late life."

Stone believes the straight change and the big curveball are working their way back into the game more often, and that they're better for arm health anyway. He referred to the cutter as the "pitch du decade, not du jour. Hopefully soon we won't see pitchers disintegrate as they throw cutter after cutter after cutter."

Samardzija has clearly gambled and lost.

We've seen recent winning contract bets in town. Before the start of the 2011 season, the Bears offered Matt Forte a five-year deal with about $15 million guaranteed. Forte refused, had a Pro Bowl season, and was assigned the franchise tag. In July of 2012 he was signed to a four-year, $32 million deal with $17 mill guaranteed.

Last October the Bulls offered Jimmy Butler a four-year, $44 million deal. Jimmy refused, and chose to play out the season. The max contract he signed with the Bulls in July will be worth about $50 million more than that.

Samardzija got a large bonus for choosing baseball in his rookie deal, and whatever he gets this winter will be more than most of us could dream of earning in five lifetimes. So this is not some plea for your sympathy.

The White Sox will make him the one-year qualifying offer. Like every single player before him, Samardzija will turn it down to test the market. Then someone will give him much less than he expected to get.

It'll be Edwin Jackson money.

The fan base that sees it happen will hope Samardzija doesn't become their team's version of E-Jax; a good guy with a powerful arm who can eat innings but should not be trusted.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The Spiegel & Goff Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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