Those in holds leagues or deep dynasty formats may want to take notice of Jeff Samardzija who was called up earlier this week when the Cubs placed Kerry Wood on the DL. Samardzija picked up his first major league save on Sunday throwing two perfect innings against the Marlins and striking out 3. The save situation came as the result of the Cubs not wanting to use Carlos Marmol and make him unavailable for the first game of the Brewers series, so don’t expect many more of those. But Samardzija has quickly gained the confidence of Lou Pineilla being inserted into consecutive hold/save situations in his first two big league games and has rewarded that confidence with 4 innings, 2 hits, 1 ER, 0 BB’s, and 5 K’s. Samardzija has been a tough prospect to figure out since he’s actually done better upon promotion to each higher level after struggling at the lower levels, but he throws easy gas, consistently touching 97 mph with good tail on his fastball and his off-speed stuff while average, is developing. With Bob Howry struggling mightily, I expect Samardzija to move into the secondary setup role with Carlos Marmol upon Kerry Wood’s return, which should result in a few holds the rest of the way. For those in dynasty formats, Samardzija also deserves a look as based on stuff alone he’s one of the Top 50 pitching prospects in all of baseball, but his underwhelming minor league numbers have held him back on prospect radars. The ability to perform better the higher he moves up suggests there’s some upside in Samardzija down the road and with the Cubs facing a number of pitching roster decisions in the off-season (Dempster, Wood, Howry, Eyre are all free agents), Samardzija may be able to work himself into a prominent role for next season as well.
Jacobs busted out of an 0-9 slump with a 3-5 Sunday including his 21st and 22nd HR’s of the season. After a miserable June, Jacobs has bounced back to post a solid .288/.373/.515 line here in July. For most of the year Jacobs has been an all or nothing power hitter, providing big HR totals and little else, but of late he’s starting to hit for a more reasonable average. Some of this has been due to both good and bad luck in different areas. Jacobs .191 BHIP% is about 25 points below his 3 year average and part of the reason he’s posting a .245 average (he’s really closer to a .260-.270 hitter). On the other end of the spectrum a HR/FB Rate of over 18.5% is a bit high for a guy who’s been between 11% and 14% the last two seasons. Add in the fact that his 2B’s rate has dropped in line with the increase in his HR Rate and I don’t think we’re seeing any significant natural growth in power that would result in a 5% increase in his HR/FB Rate, as opposed to just some better fortune on balls leaving the park. As a result I’d expect the batting average to climb a bit the rest of the way, (.270-.280 months from here on out wouldn’t surprise me) with the HR pace decreasing.
On Sunday, Kershaw flashed the dominance we’ve been awaiting since his splendid debut May 25th against the Cardinals. Kershaw shutout the Nationals over 6+ innings allowing just 4 hits and 1 BB, while striking out 5 to pick up his first major league win. The improved control, throwing 57 of his 86 pitches (66%) for strikes, is the most important facet of Kershaw’s outing on Sunday. As we’ve noted before Kershaw already displays above average skills in two of the three most important pitching peripherals (.84 K Rate, 50.5% GB Rate) but his .59 BB Rate leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately there is some upside here as Kershaw has displayed better command at the minor league level this season (.30 BB Rate at AA). Once the command comes, the rest of the repertoire suggests Kershaw can become a legit top of the rotation starter. If you’re tracking his progress waiting to add him to your roster, pay close attention to the control because it will tell you all you need to know about his value for the rest of the season.
It looks like we’re finally starting to see some of the statistical correction in Johnson’s season I’ve been predicting. Despite not showing the level of dominance in his K Rate earlier in the year, notching just 9 K’s in his last 20 innings, Johnson’s results have been tremendous over the last two starts. During these two outings, the Big Unit has thrown 14 shutout innings, allowing just 11 hits and 1 BB. The last two outings have brought his Strand Rate and BHIP% a bit closer in line, but there appears to be some room for further improvement in both areas as well. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, Johnson hasn’t really been pitching any better than he was early in the season. He continues to show good command, limiting his walks, but the lack of K’s in his last three starts against the Phillies, Cubs, and Giants (all teams that rank in the top half of MLB in K’s) is a bit concerning. Watching Johnson there doesn’t appear to be any difference in his stuff, so I’m banking on the fact this is just a blip on the radar screen, but the declining K Rate of late matches up with a worrisome trend that started in June, when his K Rate dropped from over 1.00 in each of the first two months to just .67. Johnson responded by striking out 16 in his first 10 July innings, so I’m hoping for the same bounce back now. With Johnson the K Rate will tell the story to his value the rest of the season. If he’s continuing to strike out nearly a batter/inning, he’ll settle in as a mid rotation starter with good upside, however if the K Rate continues to falter he’ll make for just a matchups option. I’m banking on the K Rate coming back and Johnson driving closer to the 300 win barrier.
There is something exciting going on with Paul Maholm right now as Sunday’s gem gives him 7 quality starts in his last 8 outings, with the only non-quality start coming in Colorado where he allowed 5 ER’s in 6 innings while sporting a 7:0 K:BB ratio. Along with the string of quality starts, Maholm is showing improvements in his K and BB Rates, having struck out .84 batters/inning in July and walking just .16 batters/inning. Maholm’s name came up on a sleepers screen I ran earlier in the season in a First Pitch article when examining GB Rates and sure enough it looks like we’re seeing a bit of a breakout season from him. The consistency in his command and his K Rates over the last month suggest Maholm is making the jump into reliable starter from a matchups option in traditional formats.