Closing Time: Should we order the Shark Sandwich?

For most of this season, Jeff Samardzija has been fantasy baseball’s version of Ace-King at the hold em’ table. Looks good, never wins.

But on Monday, long suffering Shark Sandwich owners enjoyed a respite. Samardzija worked into the seventh inning against Colorado, gave up just two runs, walked no one, struck out five. And at the end of the night, the record upgraded to a shiny 3-9, the ERA trimmed to 4.63.

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When it comes to pitching metrics, walk-to-strikeout ratio is the Occam’s Razor of the bunch. It’s an oldie but a goodie, an effective shorthand to get us where we want to go. But that doesn’t mean strikeouts and walks tell the complete story. And sometimes, like with Samardzija 2017, we find a pitcher who’s nailing these two stats but failing in other areas. You don’t get a 4.63 ERA by accident.

So what is The Shark doing wrong? Start with the home-run ball. Maybe it’s the price of doing business in 2017, with the ball flying out of the park. Samardzija’s 17.6 HR/FB rate is easily the worst of his career, six percent over his norm (and 3.8 percent over this year’s MLB average). Left-handed hitters have 10 homers against Samardzija, and a .493 slugging percentage.

Hits have tended to cluster against Samardzija; his 65.9 percent strand rate is under his career average and the league average. Tie that to the homers and you can see the bad luck signs flashing. It’s why Samardzija’s peripheral-suggested ERAs are much lower than his front-door number. FIP spits out 3.38, xFIP says 2.96, and SIERA checks in at 3.16.

Is Samardzija throwing too many strikes? His career walk rate is around seven percent; this year it’s down to 3.0. Meanwhile, he’s posted the best strikeout rate of his career (27.2 percent). He’s had a jump in his swinging-strike rate, but it’s nothing crazy (10.9 percent, an eyelash over the league average of 10.4). Since the beginning of May, he has a ridiculous 82 strikeouts against just three walks.

We should also mention that Samardzija’s 1.14 WHIP doesn’t jibe with the 4.63 ERA. When WHIPs and ERAs collide, I tend to trust the WHIP. And there’s another reasonable spin for his ERA:


Where does the story go from here? Will Samardzija even last the summer in San Francisco? The team is buried in the NL West standings; The Shark could be an interesting trade chip.

I’d look at last year’s 3.81 ERA and 1.20 WHIP as reasonable projection targets. And in the Home Run Derby game of 2017, those are useful numbers. There’s too much resume with Samardzija, too much back class. He’s welcome on my team, even if I might not have the gumption to watch his full starts every week.

Winning hair. Quality footwear. We can build on this, builders.

Starlin Castro is one of the best comeback stories of the year, but right now he’s just another hurt player. Castro left Monday’s game after injuring his hamstring, and a DL list appears likely.

If and when Castro is shelved, Tyler Wade becomes a prospect of interest. The 22-year-old shortstop has been excellent at Triple-A, slashing .313/.390/.444 with five homers and 24 steals. Rookie optimism has pushed his ownership tag up to seven percent in the past 12 hours or so. Wade ostensibly could become the team’s temporary second baseman.

• It would be nice if the Dodgers would pick a lane with Kenta Maeda, but for the moment, he’s back in the rotation. Maeda is set to start Tuesday against the Angels, and he’ll probably see additional starting assignments now that Brandon McCarthy is on the DL. If Maeda was dropped by a frustrated owner in your league, I like the right-hander as an upside play.

Maeda’s probably pitched better than his 4.62 ERA suggests; at minimum, his walk and strikeout numbers are the same. He’s had trouble keeping the ball on the ground and in the park, perhaps tied to a hamstring injury, since healed. I’m not ready to completely flush all the pro-Maeda angles I believed in two months ago. He’ll pitch at San Diego on the weekend, good work if you can get it.

• We’ve been fooled by Michael Taylor before, mostly because of his contact issues, but he’s having a nice run with the Nats (.277-34-11-30-7). Seven of the homers have come in the last month; he’s quietly been the No. 37 player in the Yahoo game over that period.

It would be reassuring if Taylor were showing improvement with his plate discipline, but those metrics are all working against him. Swinging strikes are up, chase rate is up, contact rate is down. But with the category juice he’s providing, maybe we shouldn’t be picky (like Taylor, himself). He’s free to add in about three-quarters of Yahoo leagues.