Kevin Luchansky writes about Chicago baseball for WARR. Stay with us for his take on the Cubs’ big pitching acquisitions and the White Sox’s new big bats
The White Sox have made quite a bit of noise this offseason, and all for good reason, with general manager Rick Hahn lighting a match and warming up the hot stove before any other general manager (save for maybe Billy Beane) had settled into their San Diego hotel rooms for the 2014 Winter Meetings.
The Sox ended their 2014 season with a few glaring needs — no power right-hand pitching, holes in the middle of their bullpen, a lack of power from the left side of the plate, not much production from the corner outfield spots — and in landing Jeff Samardzija from the Athletics, they were able to help anchor the upper-tier of their rotation with a powerful and reliable righty.
Now, more often than not, teams covet a left-hander to add to their rotation, but with Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and the minor-league future star Carlos Rodon, the Sox have plenty of left-handed pitching available to them. The addition of Samardzija allows pitching coach Don Cooper to split up the lefties, which could be especially useful when lining up your rotation advantageously in a five -or seven-game series. (Never too early to start planning for that, right?)
Last season, the Sox rotation ranked 22nd in wins (73), 27th in ERA (4.29), 25th in saves (36), 17th in complete games (3), 13th in Quality Starts (89) and dead last in walks issued with 557. Their problems don’t start and end with the aforementioned stats, but they definitely paint a picture of despair. To say there is room for improvement and work to be done in the offseason would be putting it pretty lightly.
Now you may recall Samardzija as the former Cubs front-end starter who seemingly had the worst luck with run support of any pitcher I can recall in my entire lifetime. On the North Side, Samardzija was cast to a role — team ace — that he didn’t fit the bill of. On the South Side, he fits perfectly into the No. 2 or 3 hole between two left-handed starters.
In each of his past two seasons, Samardzija has eclipsed the 210 innings pitched mark while maintaining a k/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings) of 8.2 or better and a left-on-base percentage over 70%. Everything about that stat line says workhorse — a guy you can count on every five days to throw hard, eat innings and strand runners. It’s the makeup of a guy that can give relievers a day off here and there and perhaps reduce pitching coach Don Cooper’s stress levels in mid-July.
Save for a shaky ERA in 2013 that could be due in large part to an unfortunate opponent BABIP (.314!), Samardzija has been very impressive since the beginning of the 2011 campaign that could be considered the turning point in his career. It was in 2011 that the soon-to-be “Shark” was thrust into an MLB role and competed brilliantly, all things considered.
It was a small sample size, with just 88 innings booked, but a 2.97 ERA and just 0.51 home runs a game are great numbers for a rookie pitcher. In 2014, he arguably put together the best single season numbers of his career, posting a 2.99 ERA and just a 1.76 BB/9 innings.
The BB/9 is incredibly impressive relative to numbers earlier in his career, seeing as his career average is just above 3.2. What really stood out to me — and perhaps to Rick Hahn — was the rapid improvement in Samardija’s ground-ball percentage, climbing from 44% in 2013 to over 50% in 2014, and keeping his home run to fly ball percentage below 11%. Improving upon or even keeping those numbers steady will serve him well in the hitter’s park that is U.S. Cellular Field.
As for bullpen help? Enter David Robertson, one of the most talented closers in the game over the past two seasons. Sure, as the set-up man in New York, he wasn’t really in the closer’s role until Mariano Rivera officially hung up his cleats, but he still had the pitching repertoire to do the job well. The 29 year old has spent the entirety of his career on the big stage in the Big Apple, and in 2014 when the closer role was finally his alone, he answered the bell, converting 39 saves and appearing in 63 games.
This past season, we saw Robertson’s walks per 9 and home runs per 9 crawl slightly in the wrong direction, but when you’re only completing an inning here and there, your margin for error is incredibly small.
On the positive side, his strikeouts per 9 innings figure took a hike in the right direction, going from 10.45 to 13.43! His increasing ability to strike batters out will bode well for him in a division that features some real tough outs from Detroit to Kansas City.
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