Let’s Watch Jeff Samardzija Tip Some Pitches

An interesting nugget from a recent edition of the always-excellent Ken Rosenthal notebook:

White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper accepted responsibility for Jeff Samardzija’s struggles last season, telling reporters, “Man, I failed.”

Samardzija, with the benefit of hindsight, takes a more magnanimous view, saying that Cooper only was trying to help him. As it turns out, the foundation of his early success with the Giants came in his final two starts with the White Sox, a one-hit shutout of the Tigers and a strong seven-inning effort against the eventual World Series champion Royals.

Samardzija, 31, said he made an adjustment in September after realizing that he was tipping pitches based upon the time he stayed set in the stretch — coming out of it quickly, he threw a fastball or cutter; taking more time, he threw a slider or split.

A handful of times each year, an article will surface with a pitcher, manager, or even reporter, suggesting that a struggling starter might be tipping his pitches. Seems like, more often than not, these suggestions are sort of brushed aside, either because they’re viewed as nothing more than an excuse, or because without any explanation regarding the nature of the tipping, they’re just viewed as hearsay. Well, Rosenthal provided some pretty specific explanation, and so I went looking to see if I couldn’t find some good ol’ Jeff Samardzija pitch-tipping in action.

Samardzija, who’s piecing together an excellent comeback season thus far in San Francisco, says he caught the act in September, and September followed his worst month of the season — August. In August, Samardzija ran an 8.82 ERA with eight home runs allowed in 33 2/3 innings. Seems like a good place to look. I found a start against the Cubs in which Samardzija allowed three home runs. Seems like a better place to look. This Chris Coghlan at-bat in the third inning was the very first piece of video I watched. It didn’t take long to find this.

We pick the count up at 2-0, and we’ll watch two pitches. The first, a foul ball. The second, a dinger. We need not watch the pitches themselves. All we need is the hands coming together, and the motion beginning.

Pitch #1:

Samardzija is set for ~2.7 seconds, and throws a fastball.

Pitch #2:

Samardzija is set for ~3.7 seconds while he stares at a stationary Dexter Fowler and fidgets around with his hands for a bit, then throws a slider, which Coghlan tracks low in the zone and crushes for a homer. Almost like he knew it was coming.

This was the very first video I saw, and it perfectly affirmed what Rosenthal reported in his column. But it could’ve been a fluke! Wanted to see if I could find another example just as easily. Picked a start 10 days later against Boston where Samardzija gave up five runs, including a homer from the stretch to Rusney Castillo. Went to that at-bat. It was so obvious that I laughed out loud. We’ll watch the full pitches this time.

Pitch #1

Set for ~2.4 seconds. Fastball.

Pitch #2:

Set for ~4.2 seconds. Slider.

Pitch #3:

Set for ~4.2 seconds. Slider. Long ding-dong johnson.

I’m sold! This was a thing. I don’t know why this would start happening. I don’t know how other players would pick up on it on the fly. I don’t know why or how it would get around the league. I don’t know for sure whether Coghlan and Castillo specifically even knew during these clips. But, yeah. Jeff Samardzija was tipping his pitches last year. That certainly doesn’t come close to explaining all of last year’s struggles, but it sure couldn’t have helped.

August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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7 years ago

i think you mean hearsay, not heresy.

7 years ago
Reply to  shockey198

I think you mean HERstory