“What’s going on with the cutter and the slider?” I asked Jeff Samardzija the other day in the clubhouse. “I’m turning less,” said the Giants’ big right-hander. I started laughing, thinking he was talking about turning and watching the ball leave the yard. He arched an eyebrow, and didn’t follow suit. I had to explain myself. Now he was the one laughing. “No, no, that was last year. That’s why I started throwing the curveball,” he said. The good news is that turning less in one way has allowed him to turn less in another. The other good news is, Samardzija isn’t currently angry with me.
Almost a year ago, Samardzija was praising his more exaggerated turn towards center field as means to help him stay on top of the ball. Turns out, he was doing it for another reason, too. Staying back and coming around the pitch were easier, yes, but he was also doing it to “generate easier velo,” as he put it this year.
But with another year in San Francisco, Samardzija felt like he was settling in. “My arm’s come around since I’ve been here,” he said of the Giants. “Jumping around from team to team, I didn’t feel as good as I do now. When you feel good, you can take less out and simplify.”
Maybe the new velocity readings are helping Samardzija focus less on pitch speed. He’s actually down almost a tick on the four-seam, even though it looks like he’s about the same on PITCHf/x. That’s a little trick of the technology, but the Shark sans turn seems like a benefit.
Here’s his delivery last year on a four-seam:
Here’s his delivery this year on a four-seam:
It’s easy to see, and the tweak was meaningful for two of his most important pitches. “My cutter was sinking,” he said of his turn-less rotation in the spring. “Once I started to see my splitter come around from not turning, that kind of changed it for me.” He adjusted. “So we’ll throw sliders, and the splitter is sinking, so now we’re working down off the plate and we just need to figure out how to stay up over the plate with a four-seam.”
His slider and splitter have indeed change shape, and his usage has changed accordingly.
It may look like his slider got worse and lost drop, but it’s just… different. Because the slider got harder, you might actually want to compare it to last year’s cutter, in which case he’s actually added 2.5 inches of drop on his primary cut pitch.
In any case, the new focus on the slider has benefitted the long-haired hurler. He’s currently running the best strikeout rate of his career, the best walk rate of his career, and one of the better swinging-strike rates of his career. The ERA isn’t amazing, but “cumulative stats like that are absurd” as the pitcher said. “Was there any relationship between who I am as a starter now to who I was then?”
“I feel real good,” said Samardzija with a smile, and there’s reason to believe him given all those component stats. As for those overall numbers? “I’ve had better numbers and been searching a lot more than now. I’m in one of those moments where you continue on and you’ll be right where you need to be.”
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.