SAN FRANCISCO — For some reason, Jeff Samardzija never quite got his due in his first two seasons with the Giants. He was worth more than five Wins Above Replacement in those seasons, giving the Giants plenty of value for their significant investment.
Samardzija’s third season in orange and black was a step back in every way.
His shoulder flared up in the spring and never healed. Samardzija deserves plenty of credit for trying — he repeatedly came back from the DL and took the ball, trying to contribute even as his numbers took a hit. But it wasn’t working. Samardzija was shut down for good on July 14 and still has not resumed throwing. He was worth negative .7 WAR in 10 starts, which lines him up to be the third big leaguer featured in this look back at the 2018 season.
What Went Right: This may seem like grasping at straws, but it is significant that Samardzija was never sent for shoulder surgery. Johnny Cueto will miss all of 2018, but doctor after doctor told Samardzija he just needed to rest. Even in September, Samardzija was seeking outside opinions. He was again told to rest and rehab the bursitis in his shoulder.
Should surgery can be far more significant than Tommy John, and Samardzija was relieved with the diagnosis. He plans to spend the offseason in San Francisco, getting treatment and strengthening his shoulder, with the expectation that he’s 100 percent healthy next spring.
What Went Wrong: The clearest sign that something was wrong was diminished velocity. Samardzija’s fastball was down about 1.5 mph on average and 4-5 mph in some starts. His changeup was down 4.6 mph and his cutter was down nearly two ticks. That led to really ugly results.
In 10 starts, Samardzija went 1-5 with a 6.25 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. A year after leading the majors with a walk rate of 1.4 per nine innings, he handed out 5.2 free passes per nine. His strikeout rate dropped from 8.9 to 6.0. In all, Samardzija struck out just four more batters than he walked. After three straight 200-inning seasons, Samardzija managed just 44 2/3 in those 10 appearances. He made it past the fifth inning just twice.
Contract Status: Samardzija has two years left on a five-year, $90 million deal. He’s owed $18 million in 2019 and will get a $1.5 million bonus — a chunk of his signing bonus — on January 15.
The Future: Samardzija’s no-trade clause is more limited than most, but truthfully, that doesn’t matter at all. Even if the Giants wanted to deal him, they can’t. You simply cannot make calls about a 33-year-old pitcher who is owed nearly $40 million and is rehabbing a shoulder injury. The Giants have no choice but to hope Samardzija finds a fix for the issue and returns next spring to provide solid innings. With Dereck Rodriguez behind Madison Bumgarner, the Giants do not need Samardzija to be a top-of-the-rotation arm. They just need him to go six innings a night and keep them in the game. If he’s healthy, that’s more than reasonable.