The Batter's EyeJanuary 22, 2007
Open Water
By Jeff Albert

The "shark" is now officially in the waters of Major League Baseball, and a recent article asks if Jeff Samardzija is a good investment for the Cubs. I think it is a good question; as for the answer: it depends. There is no way I can comment on the quality of pitching repertoire, but fortunately, his video from Notre Dame last year is recent enough to give some ideas that might accelerate his development.

This is Dayn Perry's main thought that has the most relevance here:

Samardzija has a good power-pitcher's build and fields his position well, but his mechanics, while consistent, need refining.

What does "refining" mean? Let's take a look...

Here is Samardzija at Notre Dame in 2006. The clips are from the same game, live (facing batters, not warm-ups):

The left side shows Samardzija coming from the full wind-up, while he is going from the stretch on the right side. Each clip is synched to release point (as all of the following comparisons will be), and right off the bat there is something that does not match up. Samardzija is moving considerably slower from the wind-up. What I mean by that is primarily the difference in time from high-knee lift to release point. High-knee lift can be thought of the time when maximal loading of the hip region is occurring, and this shows that Samardzija is unloading his hips much sooner from the wind-up. There is just about nothing going on for Samardzija as he lifts his front leg out of the wind-up. He looks much better out of the stretch, as his hips load and begin to move out during knee lift. In short, Samardzija looks much more efficient out of the stretch.

My first thought here is that the main areas of focus should be tempo and rotation - either taking less time to produce the current amount of force or producing more force in his existing amount of time. A few comparisons will help illustrate:

Samardzija (89 mph) is on the left and 2006 1st-rounder, Daniel Bard (93 mph), is on the right. These come out of the stretch, where Samardzija is quicker; however, it appears he is still a little behind Bard - behind in terms of really maximizing his ability to throw the ball HARD. You can see how far Samardzija is into his motion before Bard even starts. Some of the articles I have read mention that Samardzija has been throwing consistently in the low-90s and up to 97, so perhaps he is making adjustments on the fly (his draft scouting report cited a high 80s fastball). Another issue to consider is how Samardzija is going to be used - some suggest he will be limited to the bullpen if his off-speed pitches do not develop. In either case, it appears Samardzija might be able to use his body a little better in order to create more velocity and hopefully limit the stress on his arm.

To be fair, knee lift to release is not the only means of measuring tempo. Hand break is another. Here is a look at Samardzija next to hard-throwing Scott Williamson:

I highlighted the hand break for each and also threw in a red line just to show the different position as they make their move to home plate. Williamson starts his leg lift much sooner, but it also reaches a point much higher, and in the end he is only one frame behind in terms of knee lift to release. A little technical, I know, but it shows Williamson is getting a lot more accomplished in terms of loading his hips. And then the red line is just an indicator of how Williamson is creating forward movement by using his hips. Getting back to hand break, Williamson is more aggressive. He has some momentum coming down out of a higher set and this gives him a little bit more juice (elastic energy) as he prepares to throw.

Now that I've mentioned the hips, it is time for a look at rotation. The Williamson clip shows this, but I am going to break out two of the best here - none other than Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.

Going from the wind-up, here is Clemens (1986 version) and Samardzija:

You can see the obvious difference in timing of high-knee lift, but I have slowed down the section of interest here (here is an isolated look). Clemens is using hip rotation much more effectively going into footplant, and as a result, he has more aggressive shoulder rotation to deliver his arm to release. This would be an area of improvement that could not only add velocity, but also reduce wear and tear on the arm.

Lastly, Pedro (Boston version) will show how it is done out of the stretch:

Here is an isolation shot. I will point out once more how much quicker Samardzija is out of the stretch because he is not as far behind here. But the rotation is key. Pedro is much smaller and I can not imagine that he is nearly the athlete Samardzija is, but he is very efficient. The main thing on the Samardzija side is that he looks like he is reaching or lunging into footplant, which prevents him from really using his hips. Maybe a shorter stride is in order? That is for the pitching coaches to decide and see which things work.

For $10 million over 5 years, was signing Samardzija a good investment? We'll see. There is opportunity and a lot of light at the end of the tunnel here. His clips from the stretch indicate that he has an idea of moving more quickly and his athleticism gives reason to believe he can make adjustments. Considering his past splitting time between baseball and football combined with a few areas of potential improvement, Samardzija just might develop into a pretty good pitcher. If his mechanics stay as is, developing a better feel for his breaking pitches allow him to move along as a starter. Should he have trouble refining the off-speed stuff, improved efficiency might just allow him to develop a mid-high 90s fastball and become a force from the bullpen. Pulling off both means this "shark" could swim for a long time.


My first inclination with Samardzija is that he swindled the Cubs for $10 million, which is good for him but not so great for the club. It's certainly a better guarantee than what he'd have received for his first NFL contract.

Just looking at his numbers from the Perry article, that 5.96 K/9 and a 1:2 K/BB ratio in college (and the numbers are even worse for those 30 IP in A ball, for what it's worth) would indicate he has a long, long way to go before he's an effective pitcher. He's extremely raw and unpolished and this is a signing based almost entirely on his projectability--which is fine for a high school pitcher coming out of the draft. But Samardzija is 22, and his timetable suggests he's years away from the majors if he makes it at all.

Two things I'm noticing, and they may both have to do with camera angle, I'm not sure:

1) Szmardjia's hips appear to be opening much earlier than either Clemens or Pedro's; ie, they seem to be "popping" early.

2) His release point appears to be well behind his head, whereas Clemens' and Pedro's both appear to be much closer to, and maybe even in front of, the ear on the throwing side of their respective heads. If this is true, might it be related to the early popping of his hips and thereby his relative lack of velocity?

Obviously, Clemens and Pedro aren't neccessarily the fairest standard; it's just what I saw, or thought I saw.

early comments, you guys beat me...

one thing I wanted to add here - the differential between his windup and stretch was more of an 'indicator'. In other words, it got me looking at his tempo. Some other pitchers (ie Hudson) also have a noticeable difference in knee-lift to release depending on windup or stretch. So from that standpoint, not such a big deal. But he did appear to be consistently behind (although not much) most of the comps. I did

It is a little tricky because it may just all be tied into his hips and rotation. For example, if he is able to stay loaded a little longer, it may give the appearance that the knee is not coming down as soon, and boom, tempo looks fine.

Another little indicator of the rotation (lack of) is this:

In the very high level pitchers I have video of, the front knee is relatively stable (not moving laterally) at this point. Samardzija appears to be pulling off or trying to clear his hips late here, possibly creating that lateral action in the front knee.

A lot of good points made (as usually). On the hand break you can see how he has no up to down movement of the glove which would add velocity (gravity=momentum) IMP. With regards to ferris wheel I do not see any to talk about. The problem he will face is now he will be working with the major league coaches. Their rate of failure to teach how the body works to create velocity should hurt his chances of seeing a great improvement in velocity.

It is difficult to judge whether Samardzjia's contract was "good" or "bad" for the Cubs because, essentially, they were negotiating with a quasi-free agent. Usually, of course, college pitchers get drafted and have little choice (less under the new CBA) to sign a contract. Samardzjia, on the other hand, had some realistic, meaningful leverage that few amateur players have. In that respect, I would liken him to a sort of low profile Cuban defector: someone who's up for grabs but not a sufficiently known quantity (like either of the Hernandezs or Contreras).

What's interesting is that this gives us a glimpse into the true market value of an amateur player. Imagine if Jeff Weaver or Luke Hochevar had been in the same situation...

It seems to me from the Bard comparison video, Samardzija is slinging or whipping the ball towards home plate, as opposed to Bard who has a much smoother motion. Samardzija's motion looks like it would but a lot more strain on his shoulder.

I feel that Samardzija could benefit by closing off his knee more during his knee lift. This loads the pelvic area, enabling it to open more forcefully during hip rotation. He could also benefit by collapsing his back side while coming out of his knee lift. This will buckle his right side and make him much more lower body aggressive(with his ass leading the way and his weight back). The Scott Williamson comparison clearly shows how Williamson does these things properly while Samardzija struggles do do so.

Samardzija dives into his delivery. Look at the backside angle of both Clemens & Pedro & compare them with Samardzija.Both Clemens & Pedro really ride their back side(create back side V's) & retain better connection with their bases of support. When they touch down their head is centered between their feet. Smardzija head is much further forward.He does not create a good enough ground angle on his back side & dives & loses the ability to use the ground as a starting block to facilitate his rotation into foot plant.Ground forces are critical. It's much like a formula I race car. They have spoilers & wings to keep the light chassis connected to the ground so that the tires can turn more efficiently. When a pitcher gets off that back side too early it's much like the hitter jumping to his front foot to hit. Both retard the player's ability to create rotational power.