Jeff Samardzija and ending the fantasy ‘win’

By the metrics, Jeff Samardzija has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball this year. After Johnny Cueto gave up six earned runs in his Tuesday start, the ‘Shark’ leads all qualified starters in ERA with a mark of 1.46. Through his 68 innings pitched, the 29-year-old has an obscene ERA+ number of 266, a figure 68 points better than his nearest competition (Mark Buehrle, if you were wondering). He’s tied for first with Cueto in pitcher WAR, both NL Central righties holding a 2.7 value above replacement. Though his strikeout rate is at its lowest since he became a full-time starter back in 2012 (7.1 K/9 in 2014, compared to a 9.1 average the prior two seasons), he is walking fewer batters (2.8 BB/9 in contrast to 3.1), and inducing more ground balls then ever before (after a 0.90 GB/FB ratio in 2012/3, Samardzija is currently inducing grounders at a 51.6% clip – good for a 1.06 ratio). Never before has Jeff Samardzija been as good as he is now. 

And yet after 10 starts, as good as he has been, Samardzija still has a big fat zero in the win column.

In the grand scheme of things, the fact that the Cubs have gone 1-9 in games he has started this year, doesn’t especially matter anymore; it seems most people associated with the sport have recognized that wins are driven by run support, good defense, and a solid bullpen. It’s now not completely unusual for stud pitchers to endure wonky looking seasons by record – just ask Cliff Lee (6 wins in 2012), or Cole Hamels (8 wins last year). Samardzija’s brilliance this year in fact, has perhaps only been shoved further into the spotlight by the fact that his team can’t muster up any support for him; nuggets like this, “Going back to last year, Samardzija has now gone 13 consecutive starts allowing two or fewer earned runs. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s the second-longest streak since the league started compiling earned runs in 1913,” via Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com, and this from Ted berg of usatoday.com, “Samardzija became the first pitcher in the live-ball era — and one of only two since 1917 — to open a season with seven straight starts of at least five innings with fewer than three earned runs and record no wins in the process,” have ensured Samardzija’s infamous dominance has gone down in lore. 

The Indiana native’s 0-4 record doesn’t seem to be hurting his trade value either. After being unable to come to an agreement with the team in regards to a long term contract this past offseason, articles linking Samardzija with trades to the Rockies, Blue Jays, Marlins, and of course the Yankees, have been abundant. Former Cub Matt Garza added fuel to the fire too, when he advised Samardzija to “pitch your way out of there.”

So why then, do standard fantasy leagues place so much value on the win ‘statistic’? Despite his high standing in all of the aforementioned metrics, Samardzija’s excellence lands him… 31st among pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater? While his closest comparisons in terms of underlying stats – Cueto and Adam Wainwright – rank first and second respectively, Chicago’s ace finds himself in the same fantasy realm as Aaron Harang, who is about to turn back into a pumpkin. Heck, he’s only six spots and .20 ahead of Giants reliever Jean Machi, who has somehow walked his way into five wins already this season. The importance attributed to the win category is quite frankly, baffling.

Now I’m not advocating the win be erased from baseball altogether – like with the inherently unreliable RBI statistic as a harbinger of offensive excellence, if the win were to be erased fans of records would most likely march on Cooperstown and riot. But seriously, can it be done away with in fantasy leagues at least? Use another category, quality starts for instance – of which Samardzija has 8 already – when it comes to rewarding quality starting pitching. Every year otherwise, there will be another unlucky Lee, Hamels, or Samardzija type, plugging away on a crappy team while some fluke soft-tosser, or God forbid, a reliever, steals in a few wins and jumps ahead of them in value. I don’t even own Samardzija and am infuriated by the prospect of such an outcome occurring!

Next year then, do away with the win. Jeff Samardzija might be racking them up on another team by then, but some ace out there will be getting shafted. Make sure you aren’t going to be stuck owning their misfortune.

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