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White Sox Fri Jun 05 2015

Samardzija, White Sox Have Small Margins of Error

Chicago White SoxWhen Jeff Samardzija was traded to the White Sox in December, the expectations were that he and Chris Sale could form possibly the best one-two pitching combination in the American League.

Two months into the season, that hasn't quite been the case. Chris Sale has been great, but Samardzija, with a 4-3 record and 4.68 ERA, has taken his hits.

Of course, many of the preseason White Sox projections have been inaccurate so far. But what's up with Samardzija?

Samardzija's velocity has still been there on all of his pitches. He's hitting 94 mph with both of his fastballs and almost 92 with his cutter. This isn't a Matt Cain or Jered Weaver issue from past years where their best pitches slowed down tremendously without warning. Other than throwing more cutters than two-seamers, Samardzija's pitch selection has been very similar to years past.

His home run rates are on par with previous seasons, and his walk rate of 4.4 percent is as good as ever. What is down is his strikeout rate and ground ball rate. In 2012, Samardzija struck out 24.9 percent of batters. In 2013, it was 23.4, and last year the figure was 23.0. This year, he's punching out 18.3 percent. Also, last year a little more than 50 percent of balls hit off Samardzija were grounders. This year, it's down to 38.5 percent.

With strikeouts and grounders down, and with home runs same the clip, the difference has been line drives. Samardzija's line drive rate of 25.2 percent is the highest of his career. And unfortunately for him, the defense behind him hasn't helped compensate for that.

The Sox are 26th in defense on FanGraphs and have negative defensive players scattered in the outfield (Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera). So, while Samardzija's ERA is 4.68, his Fielding Independent Pitching, which neutralizes defense, is 3.83, which is not too far off marks from prior years. The difference between the two numbers is +0.86 and is 18th-best in the league. Not surprisingly, Jose Quintana (+1.03) and Sale (+0.55) are on the list, too.

Samardzija's most recent start, on Tuesday against the Rangers, didn't help his numbers. He has struggled in first innings this season (11.45 ERA with a .426 opposing batting average), and Texas got four runs off of him here. He allowed some sharp singles and hit a batter, but also saw Adam LaRoche miss snaring a quick one-hopper that allowed two runs, then watched as Garcia bobbled another 2-RBI single, where a clean catch might have saved one run (To be fair, Garcia and Cabrera made some tough catches in the Arlington wind to get the first two outs of the inning). Neither play was ruled an error. A two-run shot by Joey Gallo two innings later pretty much put the game away. Samardzija exited in the sixth and the Sox lost 15-2.

As we saw on Tuesday, Samardzija still has the same stuff he's always had, but that dip in K-rate and rise in line drives gives him less control of outcomes.

 
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