At the beginning of the season, everyone was on the Jeff Samardzija bandwagon. Things were so great that he was even selected in the ESPN MLB Franchise draft in the first round (pick # 26). Granted, the pick was made by Rick Sutcliffe, but it’s clear most were pretty high on what we saw from the Shark. Lately, the results have been a little rockier and the results have been less than ideal and it’s caused some to wonder what’s wrong. Before looking into the numbers, I had two theories that I sought to prove as the cause of the struggles.

Theory # 1 – He uses his pitches different in losses compared to wins.

This was my strongest theory. I thought for sure that because the results have been so drastically different, surely he must be approaching hitters differently when it comes to pitch usage. I pulled the data on his most recent outing and saw a lot of fastballs, to the tune of over 70%. However, when I looked at the numbers overall this season in the wins, losses, and no decisions, I really didn’t find all that much of a difference. Below is the breakdown of average number of pitches in each start based on decision as well as the pitch usage in those starts.

Looking at the graphic, the only thing that stands out is the 0% usage of the cutter in the wins. Personally, I’m not willing to blame the cutter as the reason why he’s lost. However, the data shows that it has been a far more effective pitch against righties compared to lefties. Righties are hitting just .125 / .222 / .125 against the cutter while lefties have stroked to the tune of .625 / .700 / 1.625. You can see a definite difference in how he uses it as well, from a location standpoint.

He’s working the righties away and the lefties inside. As a result, lefties are raking on that pitch. Aside from that small nugget, I’m not ready to say that the pitch usage argument is necessarily the cause.

Theory # 2 – He’s not getting ahead of hitters early in the count

One of the things I most like to see from my pitches is the first pitch strike. There was a study done on The Hitting Aid that showed the following averages based on pitch count:

Count 2000 2007 2008 2009
First Pitch .336 .344 .337 .338
1-0 .343 .341 .339 .340
2-0 .360 .350 .355 .368
3-0 xxxx .396 .370 .395
0-1 .324 .324 .339 .317
1-1 .325 .327 .329 .332
2-1 .340 .339 .339 .339
3-1 .344 .368 .350 .352
0-2 .160 .164 .160 .156
1-2 .178 .170 .179 .171
2-2 .195 .191 .194 .189
Full .234 .230 .227 .233

It’s hard to argue the importance of working the count into your favor when you’re a pitcher. It makes the hitter uncomfortable and as a result, tents to lead to less production. Notice the difference between being up 0-1 and being up 0-2. It’s over 150 points less. You can’t get to 0-2 unless you start the hitter off 0-1. I thought for sure than Samardzija may not be consistent in that area when it comes to his losses so I took a look at his efficiency at getting ahead in the count on the first pitch. What I found was less than convincing:

Looking at the difference, or lack thereof, it’s hard to make the case that theory # 2 is the cause for his recent struggles.

I don’t know what to tell you. It doesn’t appear to be a pitch selection issue and it doesn’t appear to be an issue of getting ahead in the count. I’m at a loss. Maybe he’s tipping his pitches. Maybe he’s just in a funk. Or maybe, and I want to be wrong on this one, he’s just not the guy we saw in the first part of the season. Whatever the cause, I hope it gets corrected soon. Until then, let’s talk it up. Get out your diagnostic hat and share your theories on What’s Wrong With the Shark.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail