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Jeff Samardzija Threw First-Pitch Balls And The Baseball Gods Were Watching

Image: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Image: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

ESPN’s David Schoenfield had a cool story this morning about Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who has walked one batter in seven starts since April 28. It’s historic!

Since that walk to Happ, Samardzija has struck out 16 more batters, including 10 in his last start against the Milwaukee Brewers. He has had 59 strikeouts and one walk during his past seven starts, becoming the first pitcher to have 50-plus strikeouts and one or fewer walks in a seven-start span.


Lots of juicy stuff in there about how Samardzija is doing this, including how he’s using his off-speed and breaking stuff instead of just pounding the fastball:

Through April 25: 47.3 percent in the zone, 55.2 percent fastballs and sinkers

Since April 25: 51.4 percent in the zone, 45.2 percent fastballs and sinkers

Instead, he’s throwing more sliders and curveballs. What he is doing, however, is pounding the strike zone with the first pitch. In April, 55 percent of his first pitches were strikes, including a called strike rate of 35.1 percent. In May and June, those rates have gone up to 68.5 percent and 57.3 percent, respectively.

This was a fun little subplot of Samardzija’s start this afternoon against the Twins, in San Francisco. The Twins came into today with the 5th most walks and the 8th best on-base percentage in the majors, and so this was sort of a somethings-gotta-give matchup. Unfortunately for Giants fans, Samardzija’s command wasn’t really there—he threw first-pitch balls to four of the first six batters he faced, and 12 of 24 batters through six innings. Today’s results could be understood as vindication of Samardzija’s first-pitch-strike approach: In the top of the fifth inning, after a leadoff single, Samardzija started the next four batters with first pitch balls, and gave up a two-run homer and his second base on balls in more than a month. That was enough to surrender San Francisco’s lead, although Samardzija survived the inning and recovered to register a quick 1-2-3 sixth inning.

You’ve gotta wonder whether Samardzija was making a sustained effort to attack the zone early in the count, or if he was just having better luck with his command from start to start, luck that ran out this afternoon. Either way, you should check out Schoenfield’s piece, which is full of interesting info about historical strikeout-to-walk ratios.

Staff Writer, Deadspin