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Monday, May 26, 2014
Samardzija goes a different route for 1st win

By Mark Simon

Finally. It took 11 tries for Jeff Samardzijato be credited with a victory this season, and he got one after the Chicago Cubs picked up a road win in San Francisco on Monday.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Samardzija’s 1.46 ERA entering the day was the lowest for any pitcher without a win through his first 10 starts of the season in major league history.

Samardzija got the win on a day in which he matched a season high by allowing three earned runs. His season ERA jumped to 1.68, one one-hundredth of a point behind Adam Wainwright for the best in the major leagues.

How he won
Samardzija had his best day of the season strikeout-wise, whiffing 10 Giants hitters. He won on the strength of a slider that he threw 32 times, 24 for strikes, with the pitch netting him six strikeouts. He’d only struck out eight hitters with his slider all season entering the day.

Giants batters missed 12 of their 20 swings against the pitch. The dozen missed swings are the most for Samardzija with that pitch in any start in his career.

What’s been better
Samardzija is succeeding for a couple of reasons beyond a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, comparable to the 3.2 rate he had two seasons ago.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind with regard to season-long sustainability:

For one, Samardzija has allowed only three home runs in 75 innings after yielding 25 in 213 innings last season (his fly-ball rate is nearly identical to last season’s 30 percent rate, as is his 20 percent line-drive rate). Samardzija had his streak of four straight starts without allowing a home run snapped Monday.

For another, the defense behind him has fared much better when Samardzija gets a ground ball. Over the previous three seasons, 26 percent of hitters who hit a ground ball reached base against him. This season, that number has dipped to 19 percent.

Over a full season, such a differential would translate to 20 fewer hitters reaching base, just on ground balls, should the Cubs defense play that well behind him.

Looking ahead
Samardzija’s next start should come against the Brewers this weekend, and his recent history against them mirrors his issues this season.

The Cubs have lost Samardzija’s past five starts against the Brewers, despite his ERA in those outings being 3.00. Chicago has only scored 11 runs in those five games.

Looking ahead, the month of June has historically been a bit of a bugaboo for Samardzija, who has had an ERA of 4.00 or worse in that month in each of the past three seasons. Two years ago, Samardzija was 0-4 with a 10.41 ERA in June. He bounced back to post a 2.58 ERA in his final 13 starts that season.