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.