Jeff Samardzija was one of the most coveted pitchers in the trade market in the summer of 2014, so desired that when Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane looked to augment his rotation, he gave up one of baseball's best prospects, Addison Russell, to get the right-handed pitcher. Going into the 2015 season, Samardzija was regarded as one of the best potential free agents for this fall, lumped in with David Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto.
But that is no longer true after Samardzija's awful 2015 season, in which he ranked 76th among 78 qualified pitchers in ERA (4.96). Beyond that, he allowed more hits, total bases and earned runs than any pitcher in the majors. Samardzija also surrendered 29 home runs; only five pitchers allowed more.
Samardzija's decline was so sharp, so steep, that as the free-agent market opens, some club evaluators are asking the same question about him: What happened?
The corollary is attached, of course: Was Samardzija's 2015 season merely an aberration for the pitcher, who turns 31 in January, or a sign of things to come?
Here is some evidence those evaluators have considered:
1. Samardzija's velocity has remained consistent.
This is often the first thing executives look at when addressing a drop in performance: Is he losing his fastball? We've seen pitchers like Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia go through this decline, with their performance reflecting that lack of weaponry.
For Samardzija, this is not an issue. His average fastball velocity in 2015 was 94.2 mph, or about the same as it was in 2014 (94.4). In fact, his velocity ranked in the top 15 among starting pitchers this season.