Since Jeff Samardzija is now a "near-lock" to make the rotation, per Dale Sveum. Let's take a look at his projections for 2012. Just about everyone projected him as a reliever, though a few of them had him making 1-3 starts. It's enough that I'm not going to worry about trying to split all of those numbers out. Here's his projection as a reliever and roughly as the third-guy in the bullpen behind Marmol and Wood.
That 4.44 FIP would look nice for a starter, but for a reliever in a run environment similar to what we've seen in the NL over the past two years, not so much. In fact, the replacement level FIP for a reliever based on the past two seasons is around 4.10 (it was a great year for pitchers). With this replacement level Samardzija is expected to be worth -2.9 RAR, which is bad for -0.42 WAR (with a leverage index of 1.4).
What about Samardzija as a starter? Using the ~25% rule of thumb, Samardzija would have a 5.55 FIP as a starter, good for around -21 RAR over, say, 120 innings, or -2.0 WAR, though if he pitches that badly there's no way he starts that many innings. So pardon me if this is my reaction.
Now that that's out of the way, let's play a game of point-counterpoint. Obviously Theo and Hoyer can read Fangraphs/Bloomberg/whatever as well as we can, so there must be some reasons why this might happen.
- Samardzija is a different pitcher than he was the previous six years in the Cubs organization
It's possible that he is, but just look at his peripherals from last year. .253 BABIP, 5.3% HR/FB, 75% LOB. Someone can be both lucky AND good, but given the track record I don't think it's so likely. I'm also skeptical that he picked up anything new under the tutelage of the mightly Mark Riggins. He did try to take a trick from Ryan Dempster and add a cutter to his repertoire while he was still starting in 2010 to some success in the minors, but that success didn't seem to return with him to the bigs. If Jeff Samardzija had shown such a big improvement in the second half of last year, why trade for two starters when moving Z and the relatively valuable Sean Marshall? There are plenty of other places that the Cubs could shore up at the big league level, not to mention trying to grab a prospect or two instead.
- Hey, it worked for Ryan Dempster
Apples, meet oranges. Ryan Dempster was a successful MLB pitcher in his past, and was bullpened in the first place while coming back from Tommy John surgery. Not to mention that for every Ryan Dempster who goes from relief to starting and succeeds, there's a dozen James Russells. Not to mention that Samardzija has been given chances to convert back to starting and has fared miserably, both in the upper minors and at the MLB level.
The Cubs are using this to turn a short-term asset into a long-term asset
Shockingly, the Cubs should have Jeff Samardzija under team control for three more seasons (his arb years) after 2012, as he only has two years of service time. If they turn him into a starter and he sticks, he'll be more valuable. Though I think most other teams will be able to look at his six seasons as a shitty pitcher and not want to give much back for him.
- The Cubs have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing this
That would be true if the choice was Samardzija vs the likes of Ramon Ortiz, Rodrigo Lopez, or James Russell for a rotation spot. However, Randy Wells pitched well in his first two years before last years injury-lost season, and Volstad and Wood are no slouches either. They're not all-stars, but they're not players to toss aside.Of those three, only Wood has reasonable options to use (and has pretty much punched his ticket to Iowa anyway). As far as Wells or Volstad goes they have to be put on waivers to be optioned to the minors, and neither of them will make it through, which means bullpen time. Wells pitched out of the pen in 07 and 08 but has been a starter ever since. Given how everyone (at least, the media) seems to have forgotten about his 09-10 seasons and the fact that Volstad was in such a prominent trade signs point to Wells heading to the pen, which could affect his stuff and value going forward.
On the macro-level if Samardzija stinks, the Cubs will be that much closer to the second pick in the draft (it's going to be tough to get past Houston on that one). They're not contending for anything this season, so along those lines it's fine with me. But I'd rather it was the right decision resulting from the right process.
All and all I don't even know what to project. But I feel pretty confident that Jeff Samardzija, starting pitcher, will yet again not be a very successful experiment.
Previous pitcher projections