With the Toronto Blue Jays playing some of their best baseball in years and currently leading the wide open AL East division speculation will once again heat up that the Jays are seeking help for their starting rotation. The current rotation features RA Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, JA Happ and the recently called up Liam Hendricks who has taken the place of Dustin McGowan.
Dickey, Buehrle and Hutch have all performed admirably and perhaps above expectations thus far this season. Happ has been strong recently but it is hard to envision and contending team showing complete faith in him given the rather weak track record in terms of major league success. Hendricks was only recently called up and the fifth starter spot has been a sore spot all season.
This leads me to the point of this piece. The Blue Jays will be looking for external help and all indications are they have at the very least kicked tires on acquiring Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs. The man they call ‘Shark’ is having a career season in terms of ERA (1.46), WHIP (1.09) and ground ball rate (51.6%).
Samardzija, currently 29 years old is a very solid starting pitcher but if the rumored price of at least two of Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman I think Alex Anthopoulos should tread carefully. First off trading one of our best current starting pitchers just to add another makes zero sense and perhaps the Cubs are trying to set an early high price to see if a team blinks first.
Second this would be buying a pitcher at likely the peak of his value. Thru 68 innings in 2014 Shark has seen his K-rate dip to a career low 7.15 K/9 and his BABIP is at a career low .264 (career .294 mark) which has certainly helped his overall stat line. His current HR/FB rate is 3.9% – which is not sustainable compared to his 10.5% career rate. His strand rate is also at a career high 82% compared to his career rate of 72%.
This has all added up to a career best ERA and WHIP. Now he has taken a bit of a different approach this season as witness by his pitch selection. In 2013 he utilized his four-seam (straight) fastball 25.1% while in 2014 that has dropped to 17.1%. This season he has tried to use his two-seam (sinking) fastball much more (39.6%) more than last year (27.7%). This has helped lead to a higher overall groundball rate but overall he has not missed as many bats at in years past.
His current swinging strike rate is 8.2% (10.1% for his career) as batters are making higher overall contact. Yes some of that is likely by design but it is never a good thing for a pitcher to suddenly start missing less bats. According to Pitch FX data his fastball has seen about a one mile per hour dip – nothing huge but at age 29 his velocity will continue to decline going forward.
Finally bring any pitcher into the AL East and there is bound to be a bit of a learning curve. Yes it is not the division it once was but that is more due to the injury prone starting rotations and not the overall level of offense. There is no guarantee Samardzija comes over to the AL East and the Rogers Centre and pitches like an ace – which is the type of production needed to justify the current asking price.
I hope the price comes down but with so many teams still gunning for the playoffs that seems doubtful. Shark would be a great addition to our rotation and could go a long way to solidifying our starting rotation but that addition cannot come at any cost. If the price for Jeff Samardzija (3.46 xFIP, 1.5 WAR in 68 IPs) begins with Drew Hutchison (3.56 xFIP, 1.5 WAR in 60 IPs) the price is already much too steep and the answer must be no.