Friday, December 11, 2015

Jordan Zimmermann vs. Jeff Samardzija The Ultimate Showdown

Two of the top free agent starting pitchers have come off the board and a whole lot of money has been handed out. The two starting pitchers we will showcase today are Jordan Zimmermann and Jeff Samardzija as we try to analyze which team will get the most bang for their buck. Will it be Detroit who signed Zimmermann for just five years and $140 million or will it be San Francisco who signed Samardzija for five years and $90 million? You're immediate answer will likely be Zimmermann but you may be jumping the gun just a tad.

Neither of these arms are especially old and neither of these arms have an absolute ton of miles on them. Zimmerman is just 29 years old and has thrown 1094.0 IP in his career with the Washington Nationals. Including his postseason numbers, 12.2 IP total, you see that Zimmermann has thrown a total of 1106.2 IP and thrown over 200 IP just two times. Meanwhile Samardzija is 30-years old and has compiled just 991.2 IP in his career thanks to a career in College Football that delayed his entrance into Major League Baseball. Samardzija is raw but he gets the edge on both projectability and for the lack of miles on his arm. Samardzija could turn into an absolute ace and stud in San Francisco with that spacious ball park and speedy outfielders behind him or he could flame out and become the next bust of a free agent signing. It’s like buying a lottery ticket with Samardzija where as you basically know what you’re going to get with Zimmermann. His stats are declining at an alarming rate and I don’t believe switching from a division that sported three of the worst teams in MLB in 2015 (remember all the head-to-head matchups within the division) to the American League and the AL Central specifically is going to bode well for Zimmermann or the Tigers. If Samardzija is like buying a lottery ticket Zimmermann is like going to a dead end job with no chance of advancement, pay raise or rise in responsibilities. You’re going to go every day and you’re going to make ends meet but the price of gas is going to go up, insurance is going to go up, food prices are going to go up and there is nothing you can do to stop it or improve it, you’re stuck for life and you grow miserable by the day.

I may have been a little hard in my analogy for Zimmermann, and it’s no knock against him personally, but I can’t see the deal working out as well as the Tigers hope. The saving grace for Zimmermann is that his deal is only for five years but for the sake of this showdown so is Samardzija’s. Both teams had to sacrifice a draft pick to sign their man but the Giants will give up a first round pick for Shark, the Tigers first round pick (9th overall) is protected and will only sacrifice a second round pick for Zimmermann. This means a lot in a league and in an era that has never been more reliant on cost-controlled players and the use of your farm system. Zimmermann lost in a big way in the last debate but he gains some of that back with the draft pick compensation. Also it is worth mentioning that Zimmermann is not trending downward, neither is Samardzija after having one of the worst seasons in the American League in 2015, at least not yet. One down or bad season is not a trend, if it repeats in 2016 and beyond THEN it’s a trend.

Finally, the projections. Does Baseball Reference expect either of these men to bounce back in a big way or will it be more of the same next season?

2016 Proj. 31 8 11 4.19 189.0 187 95 88 23 49 1.249 8.9 1.1 2.3 7.7 3.31

2016 Proj. 30 12 8 3.43 181.0 175 75 69 18 37 1.171 8.7 0.9 1.8 7.6 4.11

Based on the projections alone it looks like Zimmermann has the edge here but at the end, who wins? Is it the man who is likely to suffer from the league switch, has more mileage on his arm and signed for more money? Or is it the raw starting pitcher that might have just proven why Zimmermann is not the ideal choice in 2016 after struggling in his switch from the National League to the American League? I honestly think, and this is my personal opinion and projection so bear with me, that Samardzija will benefit from the switch back to the National League. Some of Samardzija’s best seasons were with the Chicago Cubs in a small hitter-friendly ballpark. Can you imagine Samardzija not only facing the pitcher’s spot three times a game but facing the pitcher’s spot three times a game in one of the biggest parks in all of baseball? Zimmermann isn’t exactly pitching in a band box himself up in Detroit’s Comerica Park but I truly think the AL-to-NL switch will be more severe than Detroit had expected. I’m not saying Zimmermann is going to fall off the map but I didn’t say he was going to live up to his $110 million either.

Samardzija wins… by a hair… a lot of hair. 

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)