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San Francisco Giants: The Reinvention of Jeff Samardzija

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 06: Jeff Samardzija #29 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays in the top of the first of a Major League Baseball game at Oracle Park on April 6, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 06: Jeff Samardzija #29 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays in the top of the first of a Major League Baseball game at Oracle Park on April 6, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija has made two starts this season. So far, he looks like a different pitcher than the one we’ve seen in recent years.

It’s still too soon to draw any significant conclusions from the small sample size that is the 2019 MLB season, but that does not make it any less fun.

In both of his starts, Jeff Samardzija has given the San Francisco Giants a chance to win. The peripheral stats tell an interesting story as well.

For starters, he’s averaging less than five innings per start, and it looks like his days as a workhorse may be a thing of the past.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Many starting pitchers struggle in their third trip through the batting order and Samardzija is no exception, with hitters posting a .772 OPS against him their third trip through the batting order.

Compare that to a .721 OPS in their first plate appearance and a .694 OPS in their second plate appearance, and it’s clear that workload management will be an important factor with the new Jeff Samardzija. It makes sense then that Bruce Bochy has shown a quicker hook than before.

Additionally, Samardzija has thus far posted a 4.7 BB/9 and 5.6 K/9 through his 9.2 innings of work. Compare that to his career numbers of 2.7 BB/9 and 8.1 K/9, and it’s clear that he’s approaching hitters differently too.

Samardzija has always been known as a strike-thrower who attacks hitters. That’s not been the case this season.

He appears to be staying away from the middle of the zone and throwing to the corners with more frequency, and he’s giving away more free passes as a result. There’s something to be said for being effectively wild, though, and Samardzija seems to be benefiting from it.

He has also not yielded a home run yet—a source of frequent criticism in recent years—after giving up 1.2 HR/9 in his first three seasons with the Giants.

As a strike-thrower, he would get too much of the zone with a pitch or two, and hitters would punish take advantage. If he can continue to limit the number of home runs he gives up, it could go a long way.

The days of the 200-inning workhorse may be a thing of the past, and Samardzija seems to be on board, with the stats suggesting he is approaching hitters differently.

By living on the corners, his efficiency is down and so is his average innings per start.

However, if the goal is to limit hard contact, this may be how Samardzija redefines himself as he enters the latter stages of his career. Pitching seven innings per start is great, but if he yields five runs in the process, the Giants lack the offense to consistently compete.

As a result, the goal should be to keep the Giants in the game as long as possible, then hand the ball off to a bullpen that had posted a 2.48 ERA entering Sunday.

That might just be the formula for a successful season from Samardzija in 2019, and how the Giants can salvage value for the remaining two years and $39.6 million of his contract.

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