Starter Smackdown! Samardzija vs. Jimenez vs. Santana

Irish Score== Which One to Wish For? ==

Exploits on rectangular fields:

Jeff Samardzija was an All-America wide receiver at Notre Dame.  Caught 77 balls for 15 TDs in 2006 from QB Brady Quinn.  Also an All-American that year was a dude named Marshawn Lynch.  Maybe you’ve heard of him.  You can, as they say, look it up.  If I’m doing the math right, he would have been recruited to South Bend by Tyrone Willingham.  Enough connections?

Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana no doubt played futbol at some point in their youth, but there’s no indication they ever made any All-Dominican teams.

Names:

Santana’s real name is Johan Santana.  True story (supposedly).  But he didn’t want to be an MLB pitcher known as the “other” Johan Santana, so he changed his first name to “Ervin.”  Just because he liked the name “Ervin Santana.”   So there.

Samardzija.  Nickname “Shark.”  No need for oddball stories there.

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None of which helps decide which one Mariners fans would prefer to add to the rotation, but just so you know.

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Cost:

Samardzija is arbitration-eligible, and recently settled for a $5.35M deal for 2014.  He has one more arb year and then would be a free agent after the 2015 season.  He will cost at least one significant prospect, plus more.  The Cubs do not “have to” move him, but he doesn’t quite fit into their rebuilding “window,” so they are interested in cashing him in for an MLB-ready younger, cheaper substitute.

Jimenez and Santana both rejected qualifying offers, and, therefore, cost a draft pick in addition to the contract.  Same deal as Nelson Cruz (which is why their names have floated back up as the Cruz talks apparently went south — together with the Iwakuma finger incident).

Most observers thought Jimenez and Santana would get deals in the range of the 4-year, $50M pact that Matt Garza got from the Brewers, but the impact of the qualifying offer seems to be heightened this year (Garza was ineligible for compensation due to being traded at mid-season — look for players to start demanding that!).

All of which leaves both starters still available at reasonable cost, plus the draft pick.

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All three have pitched during similar time spans, so we can put them all on one chart.

  • First number: Obtaining non-random outs (PSA+)
  • Second number: Denying non-random offense (Conv+)
  • Third number: Composite of the first two
  • In each case, the 10-year MLB average is set at 100.
Samardzija Jimenez Santana
2005 94-88-82
2006 71-103-75* 97-98-95
2007 87-93-80 89-82-71
2008 102-131-133* 92-114-106 143-121-164
2009 62-60-22* 116-125-141 95-89-84
2010 (-17)-62-(-65)* 115-123-139 102-98-100
2011 93-123-116 104-99-103 108-103-111
2012 125-112-137 72-87-59 85-79-64
2013 115-107-122 112-118-130 120-108-128

*Fewer than 200 batters faced.

Analysis:

  • At premium prices, I nix Santana.  He’s only had one excellent season.  He had nice mini-comeback last year, but it wasn’t really overwhelming or anything.  Nine seasons: one superior, one nicely above-average and seven average.  Not paying a premium for that.
  • The guy I want is the 2009-10 version of Jimenez, naturally.  It looked like he was gone forever until late spring of last year.  From June 1 on, Jimenez put up 122-125-147, which, if it were a full season, would be the best composite up there except for Santana’s outlier 2008.  If he’d never showed that before, it would be one thing, but hitters found late-2013 Jimenez as hard to hit against as the 2009-10 version.
  • I grant that Samardzija has every right to be lumped in this class.  He’s been a formidable starter for the last two years.  And, whereas the other two have been inconsistent, Shark could be on an exciting upward trajectory.  That being said, he’s had high-walk and high-HR experiences in the (bullpen) past, and his value is pretty dependent on those things actually being in the past.  He was really quite awful as recently as 2010.

Bottom line:

Little enthusiasm for Santana unless you are paying him inning-eater rates.

Wary of what the Cubs will expect in return for Samardzija, but considerable (yet guarded) enthusiasm if he can be got in a fair deal.

Willing to pay the price for Jimenez despite the risk, given that he’s had two unhittable stretches in his career, and one of them is where he left off last season.

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