That cutter and sinker are back up to where they need to be to induce more grounders. The sinker, in particular, returning back to where it was in previous years represents an encouraging trend. And as such, his groundballs per ball in play are back to looking like exactly what they should look like...
This return to form, although not necessarily a "resurrection", is taking place across the board. He hasn't experienced any sort of real velocity change, but the fact that he's able to utilize all of his pitches is allowing those strikeout numbers to creep back up. After a 6.86 K/9 season last year, he's currently at 7.69 in 2016, with a swinging strike rate up a touch (9.8 to 10.4) from last year. His walks are also down, at 1.82 per nine thus far. The rest of his statistics across the board feature a 2.66 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, and a WHIP down at 1.03. Not only are these numbers vastly improved from last year, but these are some of the best figures that Shark has posted in his career. As a veteran pitcher,, and having spent a previous year in baseball purgatory, Samardzija appears to have the look of a guy who knows exactly what works for him and what doesn't and the Giants are allowing him to roll with it.
What might seem like a simple, and perhaps even obvious, change for him has led him down the path to not only earning that $90 million contract, but perhaps even justifying it as a bargain at some point.This is matched up with professional observation by Mike Krukow, from his KNBR show, as reported by CSNBA:
"He's simplifying things," Krukow started. "A lot of times, guys have four or five things they can do with the ball. They feel compelled that they have to throw all of them.
And I think what (Dave) Righetti and (Mark) Gardner have done with this guy, is they've simplified it, and said 'Wait a second. Let's take a look at what your true strengths are.
"Your true strengths are your fastball ... and your cut ... so you've got two different types of movement, one going away from the other. And it's late movement. Why not let's focus on being able to corner pitch with it. To locate.
"We'll introduce a slider, we'll throw it out there, and we'll work on an offspeed pitch to give you an eventual third speed.' That's what they've done."
"His mechanics are impeccable and he's got great finish with the crack of the whip," Krukow added. "He's in command so that maximizes velocity, movement and location capabilities. He's got all that going.
"And I think because of his athleticism he's able to repeat this stroke of the arm with great consistency."
"It gets back to Dave Righetti. If you're a pitcher, and you've got abilities, whatever type of athlete you are, you're going to get better around him," Krukow declared. "You're going to get better around Mark Gardner. They're the best at what they do. This is just another example of it."
Krukow closed the topic by making a bold prediction.
Samardzija's "not a finished product. He is a work in progress. I think when he masters that third speed, that changeup, you're gonna see a guy who's gonna be a perennial All-Star and he'll challenge for the Cy Young. I do believe he has that type of ceiling."
This was the sort of stuff I was hoping the Giants would be doing with Samardzija once they got their hands on him.
To build on top of what was noted in the Beyond the Box Score (surprised the author didn't point out this chart): Fangraph Samardzija Pitch Values. While this has limited predictive value, it is a descriptive stat, showing how good he has been in the season.
Surprising the Cutter Has Been So Good
Amazingly enough, he had not had a lot of success with his cutter in the past (and part of the value shown in this table is the sequencing that happens for the pitcher, based on the circumstances he happens to be in for each instance, making a pitch more or less valuable, depending on how the sequencing is), his only year was way back in 2011, yet the Giants keyed on that pitch, had him simplify to using mainly his fastball along with the cutter. Yet, despite his lack of success before (remember, sequencing matters), they have found the right sequencing to enable him to create a lot of value with this pitch, something none of his pitching coaches nor team scouts ever realized.
Slider Has Always Been His Plus Value Pitch
Plus the slider is his most often used third pitch this season, which has always been a very valuable pitch in the past. Apparently by paring back the usage of the slider to key situations, he has been able to create even more value than ever before with his slider, despite not using it as much (and we are only nearing the one-third point of the season).
Now Slider is Keyed with Cutter
Likewise, the Giants keyed on his cutter, which he didn't use as much before in his career. They have nearly doubled the usage of the cutter in 2016, from 20.2% in 2015 (and roughly 10-13% before) to 39.4% currently. They still use his four-seamer a lot, but dropped that a lot from before, from roughly 30-ish in last few years to 22.8% this season. Two-seamer has been reduced too, from the 24.1% in 2014, his most successful year by far (and only one previously, really). The splitter has been almost eliminated, down to 5.4%. Even the usage of the slider was down, from the 20-ish he was at before, and it seems like the Chicago White Sox realized that and tried to double down on that, pushing his usage up to 24.4%, but the Giants now only employ it 15.1%, and in spite of the lessened usage, he has almost created as much value with this pitch as any other season he has used it.
Resulting in Success in 2016 Unlike 2014
And this season is totally unlike his most successful season in 2014. In 2014, he created his value with his fastball, slider, and split-finger fastball, with most of it from his fastball. For the Giants, most of the value is created with the cutter and slider, with some from the fastball. It is totally counter-intuitive, because Samardzija is known for his fastball, and yet he is creating most of his value from the other two pitches in his repertoire.
Maybe someone can explain to me, but Beyond the Box Score used Brooks and noted his usage of the sinker, but PitchFX has no sinker to speak of, so I don't know how to reconcile the two sources of pitch type data. Based on the up and down, it appears that the two-seamer is what Brooks is calling the sinker, but while Brooks has that around 28%, FG has it around 17%. And FG has the cutter at 39.4% while Brooks has it at around 32%.
And Success with Slider Exponentially Increased
In any case, a lot of additional value is being derived by whatever the Giants are doing with Samardzija. Looking at the "/C" values, which rates the value of each pitch per 100 pitches, his slider's value has leapt from the 1.0-1.5 per 100 pitches value range to 3.07 per 100 so far this season. And showing how screwed up Samardzija was with the White Sox, after easily creating value in the 5-8 range previously, he was actually -6.7 with the White Sox. His cutter value was returned to what it was long ago, in 2011, when he was still a reliever. And while his fastball value is not that high, on a per 100 pitch basis, is his best since 2014's 0.50, as it is at 0.38.
Despite Plus Plus Velocity, Success With It Has Been Spotty
Despite his plus plus velocity, none of his pitching coaches or teams have ever had him produce value regularly with his fastball. No wonder Samardzija, according to Baer, told the Giants that he really wanted to join the Giants, and when told that the Giants were busy with Greinke, but would sign him if that fell through, he purposefully stalled negotiations with other teams in order to see what happens. And once that fell through, that is why the Giants signed him so quickly.
The Giants success with the Shark has come faster than I had hoped. I thought maybe half to a whole season, then he'll be ready to take over for Cueto before Cueto leaves after two years and opting out. With a three headed monster, all we need are average back of rotation starters to have a great season. And Cain's recent stretch of good pitching shows what can happen when you get four good starts in every turn of the rotation.
Giants look good to run away with the division, but, again, injuries to the lineup is the Achilles Heel. We've already lost Pagan, and aches and pains have took out Panik, Pence, and now Span. Continued health is what we need to keep the good times going.