Samardzija and the Sox First Inning Woes

Jeff Samardzija was brought in to be the Batman to Chris Sale’s Superman. Even though he was going to be the number two pitcher in the rotation, the expectation was that he would really be pitcher 1-A. Eleven starts into his White Sox career and Samardzija is 4-3 with a 4.68 ERA and a 1.342 WHIP. Hardly ace like numbers.

So what has gone wrong for “Shark” this year? Well there are several alarming and perplexing splits but we will start with the most noticeable, his first inning problems.

There is a saying in baseball that offenses need to “get to” sinker ball pitchers early. That certainly seems to be the case with Samardzija this year. His first inning ERA is now at 11.45 after giving up four runs yesterday in Texas. Opponents are hitting .426 against him in the first inning and slugging .630 with five doubles and two homers. First inning OPS against Shark is 1.080, to say that is not good is an understatement.

Some of this might be equated to bad luck as the batting average on balls in play against Samardzija in the first inning (.412) is actually lower than the total batting average against him (.426). But it also probably indicates that he is getting hit pretty hard.

The second inning numbers are not real good either (6.55 ERA) and even in the third inning opponents are hitting .318 against him. Here are his numbers in the first three innings versus the next three:

Innings 1-3: 33.0 IP, 7.36 ERA, 1.70 K/BB, .352 OppBA, .926 OPS, .374 BAbip

Innings 4-6: 31.0 IP, 2.90 ERA, 10.67 K/BB, .227 OppBA, .655 OPS, .268 BAbip

Now if we look at this in terms of his career splits we will see that the struggles this year are way out of proportion. Samardzija’s career first inning ERA is 4.42 and opponents are hitting .258 with a .733 OPS against him. Even with the awful numbers of this year that represent one-tenth of his total first innings, that isn’t too bad. Here are the rest of the same splits from above for Shark’s career:

Innings 1-3: 333.1 IP, 3.56 ERA, 3.16 K/BB, .254 OppBA, .711 OPS, .306 BAbip

Innings 4-6: 328.1 IP, 4.66 ERA, 2.86 K/BB, .255 OppBA, .737 OPS, .307 BAbip

So for his career, Samardzija has actually been BETTER in the first three innings ERA-wise than in the second three innings. Opponent’s batting average, OPS and batting average on balls in play are almost identical though so it would appear that he has been pretty consistent in innings one through six for his career.

So the question is; has Samardzija been that bad, really unlucky, or a perfect combination of both? It’s probably the latter and it would be hard to imagine this continuing at this rate but either way it continues to be a big problem for both Samardzija, and the White Sox.

The Sox as a team have a 7.74 ERA in the first inning this year having given up 45 runs (43 ER) in 50 innings. Opponents are hitting .319 with a .931 OPS against Sox pitching in the first. The BAbip is .368. All of those numbers are the highest for any inning for the Sox as a team. Basically, the Sox are playing catch-up right out of the gate most nights, and usually it’s more than one run to make up. That takes a toll on a team mentally when you always feel like you are chasing.

One other crazy split for Samardzija is his home and away numbers. In four home games Shark is 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA and opponents are hitting just .226 against him. In seven road starts, he is 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA and opponents are hitting .319 against him. For his career, he has always been better at home but the difference hasn’t been nearly as glaring. His career home ERA is 3.65 and on the road it is 4.19, the opposing batting averages are also closer at .240 at home versus .253 on the road.

Samardzija clearly prefers to be in front of his home fans, but once again the numbers this year are way out of whack, even with a smaller sample size.

The final “fuzzy number” when it comes to Samardzija is the amount of times he’s been “blown-up” this year as opposed to last season. Last year Samardzija made 33 starts, he allowed five or more earned runs in four of those 33 starts (12.1%). In 21 of those 33 starts (63.6%), he allowed two earned runs or less.

This year, Samardzija has already equaled the amount of starts in which he has allowed five or more earned runs as last year in just 11 starts (36.4%). He has allowed two or fewer runs in five of his 11 starts (45.5%). Now it is possible that he gets hot for the rest of the year and we forget about the bumpy start, but given the fact we are already a third of the way through the year, I wouldn’t bet on it.

These numbers should level out some, but they are still awfully concerning this deep into the season. We are starting to move beyond a small sample size and these are now trends more than anomalies. Hopefully for the White Sox (and Shark’s bank account), Samardzija is able to turn things around and pitch like the borderline ace he did last year. If not, it’s hard to imagine the Sox climbing back into the race in the AL Central.


About matthoeppner

White Sox fan for as long as I can remember. Graduate of the Michigan State School of Journalism, Pitch F/X Operator for, play-by-play announcer for the Michigan Regional Sports Network and new dad. I live in the Detroit area but am still a Chicagoan all the way.