Originally written on Full Spectrum Baseball  |  Last updated 8/15/12
E6

We are in the midst of one of the greatest weeks of the year folks. That’s right, it is Shark Week ladies and gentleman! No better time to try and figure out the real fantasy value of Jeff “The Shark” Samardzija than by taking a bite out of his numbers! You see, The Shark has actually been very solid for the Cubbies this season. Even more solid than his 8-10 record would indicate. Even more solid than his 4.06 ERA would indicate. And yes, even more solid than that 1.28 WHIP would indicate. Don’t believe me? Well then, let’s dive on in and look inside his numbers this season.

Generally, I do not hold much stock in a starting pitcher’s win-loss record because there are just way to many factors that are out of the pitcher’s control, like the rest of their team for example. Shark’s team, the Cubs, have been one of the worst offensive teams this season. Their wOBA is better than only the Mariners and no one has scored fewer runs this season than the Cubs, so the run support is not always there. Thus, I am not too concerned about the actual  win-loss record Shark is sportin’. Instead, let us take a look at his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as compared to the rest of the qualifying starting pitchers in the majors. Samardzija has a WAR of 2.8, which is tied with Madison Bumgarner this year for 23rd best amongst qualifying starting pitchers this year. Samardzija is owned by less than 50% in ESPN and Yahoo! fantasy leagues, yet at the very least, in real life, he is worth more wins above a replacement player than the much more widely owned likes of Yovanni Gallardo, CJ Wilson, Mat Latos and Jon Lester. Now, sure WAR does not necessarily translate into fantasy value, but it is a good jumping off point for our purposes. Now, hows about we get into some advanced stats and see what Shark has been doing this season, shall we? That was a rhetorical question.

While his actual ERA is up over four his xFIP is over a half of a run lower at 3.51, which is a highly decent number. Decent enough for 19th among all qualifying starting pitchers this season. That xFIP is better than that of some of your no name pitchers like Matt Cain, Jered Weaver, Tim Hudson and Dan Haren. Now let me be clear, I am not necessarily saying Samardzija is a better pitcher than these other fellas. Don’t go trading Jered Weaver for Samardzija or anything crazy like that, but just keep an eye on the Shark. Shark also shows that he has the stuff to get to that 3.60ish ERA with a SIERA of 3.59. In case you were wondering, and I know you were, his SIERA is better than that of Jered Weaver, again, Yu Darvish, Mat Latos and Yovanni Gallardo, among others. Again, it is not that Shark has been better, per se, but for a guy with these numbers, you would think he would be owned in a few more fantasy leagues. Now I realize this is what he has done this season, and he has had some bumps in the road (read June), so while in my mind he has been somewhat undervalued this year, the question is, are his numbers sustainable to make him a future fantasy stud? Or, in other words, is this season and an advanced stat anomaly? Well let us take a looksie!

Samardzija has an 9.09 K/9, good for 8th in the league among qualifying starting pitchers and this number is the real deal. The Shark’s average fastball is 95 MPH, and only Stephen Strasburg and David Price, perhaps you’ve heard of them, have a faster average fastball. When you can throw gas like that you can tend to miss quite a few bats. But that is just the straight gas, he also mixes in a two-seamer, a cutter and a split-fingered fastball into the repertoire as well. He just started tossing the cutter and the splitter more this season, allowing him to use the straight four-seam fastball less than usual, down to 54.5% of the time, the lowest of his career by almost 5%. The average velocity of the Shark’s cutter is 92 MPH and his average two-seamer has been about 94.7 MPH, meaning these come in to hitters close to the same speed as his four-seamer, but with some more movement. His mixing of these pitches has led to batters chasing balls out of the strike zone a little over a third of the time, up 3% from last season. In comparison, David Price has batters chasing balls out of the zone only 25% of the time and he has never had that percentage over 30%. Cy Young candidate R.A. Dickey? He is getting batters to chase 34.5% of the time which is higher than Samardzija, but not by much, so Shark is showing that he has the tools in place to be a must have fantasy starter.

From the numbers above, and remember these numbers are with a clunker of a June thrown in there, you can see the potential and judging by the fact he is still unowned in over half of ESPN and Yahoo! leagues this season, he could be a heck of a sleeper pick for a fantasy playoff team down the stretch and a nice fantasy sleeper pick in 2013. Now this is only his first full season as starter, so it is a small sample size, but things are looking good for Shark. The Ks should stay in the same range and look for that ERA to drop into the mid to high threes, say the 3.50-3.75 range. I see him as hovering the top 25 of starting pitchers next season, meaning he will be a solid two, most likely, three starter for your fantasy rotation, but you should be able to get him for fourth or fifth starter prices on draft day. Samardzija is gonna be fantasy gold, so get on the bandwagon while you can and prepare for next year to be the year of the Shark!

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