The saying goes where there is smoke, there is fire. If that is the case then the Chicago Fire Department is likely circling Wrigleyville right now in anticipation of a reunion between the Cubs 2014 “ace”, Jeff Samardzija, and the Chicago Cubs.
In case you were busy riding in the DeLorian outside Wrigleyville since the start of the 2014 MLB season, let’s take a quick look at what got us here with Shark.
The Cubs entered the 2014 season fully entrenched in their rebuild that had started in 2011 under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. The pair had already started the “sell off” of their pitching assets such as Ryan Dempter and Matt Garza in the seasons before. At the time, many fans were clamoring for Jeff Samardzija to be signed to a long term extension 2 seasons ahead of free agency and to be a face of the rebuild as opposed to being yet another chip dealt by the front office to bring back prospects. Unfortunately, that offseason, the Reds had signed pitcher Homer Bailey to an egregious extension which changed the landscape of the pitching free agent market, driving top-tier pitchers towards the $180-$200 million mark and driving the second-tier pitchers, as Shark was perceived to be, towards the $100 million mark for total contract.
Shark went out to begin the 2014 season and had the best April, May, and June to date in his career and, thus, turned down the Cubs offer of $85 million dollars over 5 seasons. The Cubs, still entrenched in a rebuild and seeing an opportunity to capitalize on Shark temporarily being one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball, packaged Shark along with now current Cub Jason Hammel and took advantage of a situation to commit highway robbery on Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s in a deal that included a top-10 overall prospect, and current Cubs starting Shortstop, Addison Russell as well former first round pick and now current top-100 prospect Billy McKinney. To add insult to injury the Cubs also received pitcher Dan Straily and cash in the deal.
The rest is history. The Oakland A’s were eliminated in a wildcard game that season against the Kansas City Royals, traded Shark to the Chicago White Sox last season where he massively underperformed, and Addison Russell, at 21, took over the starting spot at shortstop on a Cubs team that made it to the NLCS ahead of expectations in 2015.
Okay, so here we are. The Cubs won the deal with the A’s by leaps and bounds and now, looking at being perennial contenders, are entertaining bringing back the other piece that was dealt to the Oakland A’s that July 4th in Jeff Samardjzija; and now the fans are AGAINST it. I’m confused. Many of these fans were irate that Independence Day when Shark was dealt, some saying “Addison who??” or “prospects are just that, prospects”. Well, here is a quick look at WHY it’s terrific that the Cubs seem to be on the doorstep of reuniting with Shark, and at a discounted rate of 4/60-65 million….
2014 Shark per fangraphs:
7 wins, 13 losses, 2.99 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.07 xFIP, 4.1 WARP, .82 HR/9, 8.28 K/9 innings, innings, 1.76 BB/ 9 innings, .283 BABIP, 73.2 LOB%, 50.2 GB%
2015 Shark per fangraphs:
11 wins, 13 losses, 4.96 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 4.31 xFIP, 2.7 WARP, 1.22 HR/9, 6.86 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, .303 BABIP, 67.2% LOB, 39% GB%
What does this say to me? It says that Shark was able to maintain control of the strike zone, but not command of his pitches inside the strike zone.
He allowed the second highest BABIP in his career, the worst LOB% he has allowed since 19 innings he pitched in 2010, and, most imporantly, the worst k/9 innings pitched and GB% of his entire career. Even though his velocity did not dip.
I see the same Jeff Samadzija that the Cubs had in 2014 in every way other than having a strong game-plan going into his starts along with not commanding his pitches within the strike zone. That is why he excelled with Bosio. Because there is no one better in the business at helping pitchers to command their pitches within the strike zone and putting together a perfect gameplan for a starting pitchers’ opponent any given start than Bos.
I also see a pitcher that was unfortunately placed on the WORST fielding team in all of baseball last season, hence the BABIP over .300. Last season, the Chicago Cubs were 9th in all of baseball in team defense per fangraphs posting a team UZR of 23.4, a RngeR of 31, and a UZR/150 of 4.1, to go along with a defensive rating of 17.4. The White Sox, conversely, delivered a negative in each category, with a -41.3 in RngR, a -39.5 UZR, a -5.2 in UZR/150, and a total defensive rating of -41.5.
So essentially, while Shark was having trouble commanding his pitches within the strike zone, while also having a poor gameplan put in place for him by the staff, he was also trying to overcome being on the team with the worst range defensively in baseball fielding behind him each and every start. All while he was giving up the least amount of ground balls of his career. That is a recipe for the type of poor season he had last year.
So after diving into the numbers a little bit more aggresively, Cubs fans should be elated at an opportunity to get Samardizja back in the fold at a potentially heavily discounted rate of 4 years and 65 million. There is a reason Bosio wants him back, and it is because he sees the same pitcher that posted almost a 5 WARP just 2 seasons ago. Remember the phrase “in Theo we trust” and practice it, Cubs fans. Many were angry when they traded Shark for Russell, elated when Russell came up this year, now many appear to be angry with what appears to be an all-but-signed reunion with Shark. I have a feeling all of Cubs Fans will be elated once again with him in 2016 if the signing ultimately goes down.