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Metrics show Jeff Samardzija far better than record indicates

Updated: June 23, 2014 2:17PM

As every Cubs fan who has been paying attention knows, it has been a tougher start to the season than right-hander Jeff Samardzija deserves.

Through Monday, Samardzija had a 1.62 ERA that ranked second in the majors among qualifying pitchers to the 1.25 posted by the Reds’ Johnny Cueto. He is 0-4 mostly because the Cubs have backed him with only two runs per start, tied with the Padres’ Andrew Cashner for the second-worst run support in baseball. Only the Braves’ Alex Wood has gotten worse run support per start (1.86).

Samardzija is the only pitcher among the top 10 in the majors in ERA with fewer than four victories.

Turning to advanced metrics, Samardzija ranks high in FIP, too. FIP stands for fielding independent pitching, and it filters out the effects of team defense to focus on pure pitcher-against-hitter results.

The FIP formula at adds 13 times home runs allowed to three times walks plus hit batters, subtracts two times strikeouts, then divides it all by innings pitched. A constant is added to put the result on a similar scale to ERA. So far this season, the constant is 3.073. That is derived by subtracting league-average FIP from league-average ERA.

Samardzija’s FIP is 2.86. While that’s not as eye-popping as his 1.62 ERA, it’s firmly in No. 1-starter territory at 18th in the majors.
You have to go all the way down to the Pirates’ Francisco Liriano at No. 58 before you find another winless pitcher. Liriano is 0-3 with a 3.81 FIP.

From FIP, we can drill down another level to xFIP, for expected fielding independent pitching. The formula is the same as it is for FIP, except it substitutes fly balls multiplied by league average for home runs per fly for home runs. Home runs per fly can vary wildly, so xFIP is an attempt to quantify what a pitcher’s record should look like if a normal percentage of flies leave the park.

Samardzija had an abnormally low 5.3 percent home runs per fly in 2011, but his others since 2010 have been 11.1 percent in 2010, 12.8 percent in 2012 and 13.3 percent in 2013. Only 4.2 percent of his flies have gone for home runs this season, and such a rate rarely holds up over time.

With that factored in, his xFIP is 3.47, right in line with his 3.45 last season and 3.38 in 2012. It ranks him 44th in the majors. That’s still in quality-starter territory, but it’s not at the same heights as his ERA or FIP. Even in xFIP, Samardzija is the highest-ranking pitcher with no victories.

Advanced metrics such as FIP and xFIP are better indicators of future performance than ERA, and Samardzija isn’t quite as close to the top there as he is in ERA. By any measure, though, he has deserved much better from his team.

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