Thursday, December 10, 2015

2016 Giants: Samardzija Deal Official

The deal for Jeff Samardzija is official:
Here are the highlights that I can see, which I compiled across the accounts of the signing:
  • Bruce Bochy described Samardzija as “high energy,” and multiple Giants people have said this week that Samardzija’s desire to pitch in San Francisco was a boost. 
  • “He's got the equipment. Jeff's always had great stuff,” Bochy said. “He’s really had a nice career. Last year had his hiccups, but, you know, we certainly like what we're working with, and we look at him as a guy that's starting to come into his own. He's young, he's got a young arm. He's got velocity, sink. He's got all the pitches that can make him successful. 
  • “Hopefully we can do our part and help out, but I think he's primed to come into his own. That's how we felt and that's why we signed him, and we're excited to have him. He's a guy that can carry some innings for us, get us deep in the game, something that our pitching staff could use.” 
  • “You know, it plays a little part. We do look at that,” Bochy said of the ballpark switch. “We’re into analytics and we are in a pitcher-friendly park that does benefit a guy … He does sink the ball and he can get ground balls. There's a little bit of a margin of error when you pitch in our ballpark. 
  • “But, regardless, this is a guy that was on our radar, and we wanted him.” 
  • The sense here in Nashville is that Samardzija will be a good fit in San Francisco. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are familiar with his good times (2.99 ERA in 2014) and down times (4.96 ERA, 29 homers allowed in 2015). The word out of Chicago is that Samardzija didn’t always see eye-to-eye with pitching coach Don Cooper last season, and Bochy noted Tuesday that he believes he’s got the best in the game in Dave Righetti. Samardzija also goes from the worst defense in the American League to the best in the National League. And he’s moving to a pitcher’s park. 
  • The Giants trusted their scouting reports while paying for stuff over stats. They see someone who could thrive in their ballpark, throwing pitches with more conviction knowing he has some additional margin for error. The Giants fielded one of the best defensive teams last season; the White Sox were one of the AL’s most porous. And Buster Posey is pretty okay at calling a game and maximizing a pitcher’s strengths. 
  • Mostly, though, there is Samardzija’s 94.1 mph fastball, an average that ranked alongside Matt Harvey’s for 12th best among major league pitchers last season. They see a pitcher like Jason Schmidt, who can carry that fastball into the late innings. They see a pitcher whose stuff does not match his track record, but could – and soon. 
  • Bochy's interview on getting Samardzija, which is quoted on by beats above, seems some parts got edited out (see video up top of this article), I edited to get his points in more logical order:  Samardzija has the equipment, great stuff, young, young arm, got velocity and sink, all the pitches one needs to be successful.  He's had a nice career, with hiccup in 2015, but view him as prime to come into his own, plus he carries a lot of innings, going deep, that's valuable too.  
  • Also noted that the Giants has a balanced lineup, good roster makeup, so now they are flexible in getting any player that they think would improve them, keeping options open for all possibilities.  
  • From interview with Sabean (see video in middle of article):  Giants saw something about his arm angle - "it strayed last season" - that their pitching brain trust will work on with him.   Loved that he was still throwing 94 MPH in his last start.   They believe that they have the answers for why he didn't do well last season.  Noted small sample of 2015 vs. abilities to go 210+ IP in his career.  And he really wanted to come to SF.  [ogc:  Interesting point:  they saw all of his starts last season, which means that they were already targeting him for trade or free agency.]  
  • Also noted that the Giants wanted to move fast because they didn't want to get in a "negative leverage" situation (I've been noting this since Beck tried to leverage Sabean, so he traded for Nen, and when Baker tried to leverage Sabean, and he brought in Felipe Alou to replace him).  Now they got a full roster, and focused on improving themselves, ideally with another SP, good #3 starter.   He also noted that the Giants were unwilling to go six years for Greinke, that 5 years is their max for free agent pitchers.
Interesting enough to include separately, the White Sox pitching coach taking the blame for Samardzija's problems in 2015:
  • Helping along that narrative is this, from Samardzija’s last big league pitching coach: “Man, I failed.” 
  • Samardzija was supposed to be a prime piece of the White Sox’s splashy offseason last winter. Instead, he was one of many things to go wrong – and there was no fixing it, especially after he wasn’t traded at the July 31 deadline. Disappointment might have crept into his performance as he went 1-8 with a 9.24 ERA over his next nine starts. 
  • “It didn’t work out the way any of us would have wanted,” Cooper told Padilla. 
  • “That’s not to say anything negative about Jeff. He’s a quality pitcher and has many great assets, and I wish him the best. 
  • “I never wish poorly on anybody because I feel if you do that something’s going to come back and bite you in the ass. It just didn’t work, and that’s one as I sit home [I think about] when I do get around to thinking baseball.” 
  • Those around the White Sox say that Samardzija and Cooper had a breakdown of communication. The Giants have hinted at dysfunction as well, saying that pitching for his third team in two seasons might have impacted Samardzija’s performance. 
  • White Sox GM Rick Hahn told Padilla that Cooper shouldn’t be so quick to impale himself. “There was communication on a daily basis, and an open and honest communication on a regular basis,” Hahn said. “There might not have been full agreement on what was going to be the remedy, but that’s not totally atypical, especially when you have a veteran guy who’s had success and sort of feels like he knows, and he does know more than anybody how he feels and what he’s doing and what he thinks are his keys to success.” [ogc:  classic CYA]

ogc thoughts

It seems to be the classic storyline of how the events look like from the perspective of different people.  And they all have their own takes on what happened.  Plus, humans will be humans, for good or bad.

First off, Samardzija has put it all together before, in 2014, and the rule I like to quote from Baseball Forecaster is that once a player exhibits a talent, he owns that talent, and the key is for him to repeat that. If anyone can help him do it, it's the Giants staff.  And it sounds like from what Bochy and Sabean has said, the Giants have their theory as to why it happened.  But to all the Naysayers, this is their biggest worry and complaint, because, for some reason, they are extremely adverse to certain risks (like one down year) while ignoring other risks (whether taking on a huge contract or letting an unproven prospect start).

I saw it somewhere among beats that his performance declined greatly after the trade deadline passed and he was still stuck with the White Sox, and that is true, his first start afterward stunk and he was lost for a long while until coming up with some good starts to end the season.   And it's true, he still had a sub-4 ERA up to that last start of July, then was horrible after that, as he presumably lost focus, killing time (that's obviously a negative, a pro would do well no matter the circumstances).

I then went digging into his game stats, where it made it all the more obvious that he was actually pitching pretty well up to the trade deadline, peripherally, but was suffering some bad luck with LD%: 6.7 K/9, down a lot, but superb 1.6 BB/9 for great 4.11 K/BB, 3.64 FIP to end of July, .699 OPS, with 27% LD%, which is abnormally high, so there was a lot of bad luck involved.  Plus, his pitching coach there fell on his sword, blaming himself for Jeff's difficulties, when he could have just been silent if he wanted to, and let Jeff take all the crap.

So I see his contract as a fair price given what he's done as SP, with big payoff if the Giants can figure out how to get him to repeat 2014 throughout contract, while keeping him healthy.  Whether using BBR or FG, Samardzija is roughly a 2-3 WAR pitcher the past few years, for the most part.   And that is basically what the Giants are paying for, roughly.  If they can get him back to 2014 standards, that gets him into ace territory, and this becomes a homerun of a signing.  But even if he just grinds things out like he has the past few seasons, and deliver 210+ IP, that shifts 30 IP out of the bullpen, saving roughly 5 IP per reliever (not including closer).  That's 7-10% of a reliever's innings thrown in a year, significant, and saves bullets for the post-season if we get in.  So there is a lot to love about the deal, even without hoping that the Giants can figure his problems out.

And I love that he wanted to be here, targeted the Giants, and waited for us to finish the Greinke saga before pushing for a dotted line signing. I'm getting more excited by the day!  I view the signing as part of the shift in philosophy of the Giants player evaluation department ever since John Barr joined the team:  one bad year does not automatically negate the talent and prior performances, the player needs to be evaluated as to baseball luck, as to whether it was small samples resulting in the poor performance or something that either can be fixed or played through.   I think that is a buy low type of deal - though, of course, it's all relative since he's getting $90M - as his prior performance suggests a floor of around what he's being paid, and if they can find the key to repeating 2014, a huge homerun on par with Kent and Schmidt.

Next Steps

All the word on what's next - from Evans, Sabean, Bochy - is that while they are being flexible in what they might do to improve themselves (they feel that they don't have any holes in the roster to fill, and thus can focus on improving the roster), they are leaning towards getting a starting pitcher.  That don't mean that they aren't kicking tires on outfielders - they have been tied to Alex Gordon and now Justin Upton, but looking for someone who could play CF as well - but their ideal outcome is finding a (good and fair) deal with a SP.  And the SP who has been most mentioned has, of course, been Leake, though Wei-Lin Chen has also been making the rumor mills.

Hard to tell what's happening with Leake.  He appears to be full-in on getting a deal with the D-backs, he really wants to be with them, as much as Samardzija apparently wanted to be with the Giants.   There has been a lot of twitter-rumors that he was close to being signed first the Nationals then just as quickly that interest was over, then the D-backs were interested before backing off, and now suddenly D-backs are in again.  It sounds like Leake will have to take a financially engineered contract to fit the D-backs' payroll plans, with a lot of deferred money, is my guess.   Even with the big money the D-backs paid for Greinke, and the trade for Shelby Miller, somehow they are still able to fit Leake into their payroll, somehow.

The delay for Leake appears to be that he's trying to get a 6 year deal, and teams so far are only willing to go 5 years.  None of the projections went to six years, and, in fact, there were some 4 years projections, and the crowdsourced projection leaned more towards 4 years than 5 years.  Furthermore, Sabean in the interview linked above noted that 5 years is as far as the Giants are going nowadays, so this would explain why the Giants and all other suitors, have not signed Leake yet.

As much as I would like to add Leake, I would also like to see Lincecum return.  This is because I think that there is a great chance for a huge bounce back season, since he's "cured" by the surgery.  And at worse, if he stumbles again, we have Heston and Blackburn in reserve already.  So his showcase will be a key point in time for the Giants decision making.  But as I noted before, he's actually been a very good pitcher even with diminished velocity, his problems early on was his lack of preparation in understanding how to attack hitters, then his hips bothered him more and more, until he needed surgery.   So I don't want Leake unless the Giants are OK with the size and length.

I'm 50/50 right now that the Giants will sign someone before that tryout, perhaps that's the timing Evans was talking about regarding Leake. Still, since the Giants have been helping Lincecum with rehab, shouldn't they have inside scoop on how good he is right now?  And they have not written him off yet, unlike Vogelsong.   So my thinking right now is that the Giants would not mind getting Lincecum back, but he wants more money and/or role assurance than they are willing to give right now.

My Current Likely Scenario

The scenario that I'm feeling now is that since they pulled bandage off and lost their first round pick, they feel like they can take their time in pursuing the last starter for rotation (I think that Heston's stamina issues is driving push to long relief;  one report noted that he's working on regaining the 10-20 pounds he lost during the season), and wait for Lincecum's showcase, since most probably there will be someone in Leake's talent range still around at the time of Lincecum's showcase (witness Shield last off-season), because of all the QO's given this off-season.  So they will wait out the market until Lincecum has his showcase (and this would explain Evan's comment regarding re-acquiring Leake, that the timing might not work), then they will start moving on their decision making for any further 2016 roster additions.  And as they have been saying all off-season, anyone they sign would be at a contract that they are comfortable with.

Plus, it seems most SP FA are looking for more than expected AAV/years, which also slows down signings overall. Agents sense the blood in the water regarding all the new media revenues flowing into the game, and are pushing the envelope to see if they can get an extra $1-3M AAV, or even an extra year, for their clients before signing on the dotted line.  I've been compiling the signings, and while there were some projections on the mark, pitchers have been getting more $M AAV in their deals, and some even more years.

Once the showcase is done, if the Giants like what they see, they sign Lincecum because shorter deals work better for the Giants given how many pitching prospects are nearing the show in next 1-2 years: Blackburn, Stratton, Blach, Beede, Bickford, Coonrod, Johnsons.  But if he's not as good as thought and/or another team offers him more than they are willing to match, whether dollars, years, or role, then they move on to that middle strata of SP where Leake and Chin are in.

However, if one of the SP they want (Leake most probably) come back to them at their ideal offer point, then they say good-bye to Lincecum and wish him the best, like they just did with Vogelsong, and sign this pitcher opportunistically, which is the word Evans has been using to describe where the Giants are right now, feeling that they have a strong team as is, but if they can upgrade somewhere at a fair/good contract, they will go for it.


  1. Forgot to note that the beats noted that the Giants had not offered any of the remaining free agents any contract yet. So even Leake has not been given an offer yet.

  2. Apparently, he got the nickname "Shark" because somebody in the lockerroom thought that he had a "Sharkface" and the name stuck and eventually got shortened to "Shark".

    I would have bet that it had to do with his name....

  3. Apparently, he got the nickname "Shark" because somebody in the lockerroom thought that he had a "Sharkface" and the name stuck and eventually got shortened to "Shark".

    I would have bet that it had to do with his name....

  4. Interesting new pitching metric, kwERA, here is an article describing the logic of it, and about how good it is relative to current pitching metrics:

    He provided a link to the 2015 season so that we could see who the leaders for kwERA were, as a starting point for pitcher evaluations. Of course, Bumgarner was high up the list, but none of the other Giants were, and, of course, after his horrible season, Samardzija wasn't.

    Sidenote: CSNBA note that the Shark noted that one reason he was horrible at the end of the season was because he finally figured out that he was tipping off what pitches he was throwing, and that he fixed it in the last couple of starts in the season, the ones Sabean noted were so good. So that's encouraging, as he IDed it, and now is hyper aware of this and will watch out for that again.

    Anyway, back to kwERA, I thought, hey, Samardzija was pretty good as a starter from 2012-2014, where does he rank by kwERA over that period, which the leadertable on FG can do:,7,8,13,6,45,124,62,122,217,43,40,224&season=2014&month=0&season1=2012&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=14,a

    The usual names show up, starting with Kershaw up top, Scherzer, Strasburg, Sale, Cliff Lee, Yu Darvish, King Felix, Corey Kluber, David Price, Madison Bumgarner was 10th with 3.17 kwERA, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke was 12th. Surprisingly, Marco Estrada was 13th. But who was 14th? :^)

    Samardzija was 14th in all the majors for the 2012-2014 period with 3.33 kwERA.

    Then some more names who are easily recognizable (plus a surprise here and there): Wainwright, Kazmir, Smyly, Anibal Sanchez, Teheran, Iwakuma, Hughes, Cueto, Ryu, Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Medlen, Arrieta, CC Sabathia, Lackey, and Shields is #30. Then Verlander, Haren, Homer Bailey, Lester, Blanton (really?), Kennedy, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Patrick Corbin, Peavy, Cain.

    Even including 2015, he still ranked 26th in the majors from 2012-2015, 3.50 kwERA. That's darn good underlying talent, co-ace quality if the Giants can draw that out of him,

  5. My thoughts are coalescing on what the Giants plan has been this off-season. I'm cutting and pasting stuff I posted on Shankbone.

    Yes, the Giants might go after Byrd and de Aza. Evans did say when letting both go that the Giants could revisit them later in the off-season, so them possibly signing one of them makes sense. Particularly Aza since he could play some CF and the beats have been beating that drum, that the Giants are looking for someone who could handle some CF.

    The scenario I'm coalescing on is that the Giants are looking for a deal to fall to them in Jan/Feb, a la Beltran to Cards after 2011 or Shields to Padres after last season. They are happy with what they got (I'm happy too) and think that they can compete with what we got now, but if a player gets cheap enough in the new year, they will be "opportunistic", as Evans said in his last interviews.

    His cryptic messages regarding Leake now makes more sense to me. He keeps on noting that the timing might not work for him returning to the Giants. Tying that to the early statement from Evans that the Giants are hoping to sign Leake and a #2 starter, its clear now that the Giants goal was always to get a #2 type of starter or better, starting with Greinke, but also gave Samardzija a big push as well, as Jeff noted in the press conference yesterday that he was impressed by how they approached him early and eagerly at the start of free agency. The Giants don't like being left with no good alternatives, of being leveraged, so they beat the drums hard with both Greinke and Samardzija, to better ensure they get the upgrade that they want. And they did, signing Samardzija quickly after Greinke signed elsewhere.

    Now they have a full rotation. Leake would be a great upgrade over Heston, but clearly he has both wanted more than the market was bearing plus been waiting himself for the D-backs to make him the offer he wants. Especially years, reportedly he wants 6 years, and most had him pegged for 4-5 years.

    Meanwhile the Giants got the upgrade they wanted in Samardzija, and can wait regarding upgrading on Heston. If Leake's price/years fall to their comfort zone, then they'll sign him, but there are a number of alternatives all around that they can go to, especially now that they lost their first rounder anyway (and perhaps planned for this possibility by nabbing Fox with their deal).

    Plus, there is the issue of Lincecum's showcase, and he's another alternative upgrade. They should have been monitoring his rehab for a while and know how good he was at that time, and, unlike Vogelsong, has not said good-bye yet.

    So I think that their plan all along was to get a #2 or more, then wait out to Lincecum's January showcase (hence why Evans kept on saying that the timing might not work for Leake, that the Giants would be slow in signing). I think that they want to sign him, but that he wants more than they were willing to give, so they want to see what the market will bear Timmy and all the other mid-tier SP, and decide from there what their next move is. And at worse, they still have Heston as their 5th starter, which is still pretty good, he was very good into late July.

    The problem with all the payroll calculations I've seen is that people have been quoting the whole available budget while the Giants always like to leave some of the budget available for mid-season upgrades. So I think that they are OK with having some money left over, if anything, that is the plan unless they get a really good deal.

  6. Great transcript of the Samardzija introduction presser, from Chron:

    It's great to watch it, it was on, but this link captures the whole thing in text if you don't have time to watch the whole thing. Also, I think the video was edited, this transcript captures more than I viewed on replay (unfortunately, missed it live).

  7. Who's happy that the Giants signed Cueto?


    1. Me too! IF he can be healthy, that is. The Giants have in their rotation three 3+ fWAR pitchers, all 200-plus innings men; and if Cain returns to form, maybe four such. Cueto has achieved great results in a bandbox, in Cincinnati, and should improve in AT&T on that account. With a capable starter, Heston, as spot starter and RP long man, and with a more rested bullpen, we should be quite competitive with anyone in the league. Should all our guys save for Peavy be able to pitch deep into games, we can carry one more bench player than last year, so it's not only on the pitching front that we're strengthened, on paper of course, by this hire.



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