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Let's jump right into today's profiles, including a pair of pitchers whose reliance on the split-finger fastball has endeared each of them to this evaluator.

The Player: Jeff Samardzija

The Terms: San Francisco Giants for 5 years, $90 million

The Shark is coming off of his worst season since becoming a full-time player, one that featured a seemingly endless string of disaster starts and he was left in to take a beating like Rocky Balboa on several occasions.

Career Stats

GS

IP

ERA

WHIP

H%

HR%

BB%

K%

131

991.7

4.09

1.278

22.5%

2.6%

7.8%

21.5%

Prior to the season, the consensus opined that his move to U.S. Cellular Field would be a disaster for his homerun rate, and though this proved to be true (at 3.2-percent his homer rate was its highest since 2010), to blame his troubles squarely on an escalated frequency of souvenirs would be to overlook a more glaring issue. One need look no further than his strikeout rate to see that there was something amiss, as the pitcher who had struck out at least 22.9-percent of opposing hitters for the past six consecutive seasons suddenly plummeted to a career-low 17.9-percent rate last season, despite a league environment in which strikeouts are generally on the rise.

He rode the yo-yo back and forth between the majors and minors through 2010, and at the big-league level he was used largely out of the bullpen (he has pitched 123 career games in relief) up until 2012, when he became a starting pitcher full-time. Samardijza didn't log more than 35 MLB innings in a season until 2011, and 2012 was his first campaign over 90 frames. Keep that in mind as we dive into the stuff profile over the past seven years.

The Stuff

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

FB Velocity

94.3

94.4

96.0

95.9

95.5

95.6

94.6

FB Frequency

67.1%

60.0%

58.6%

54.0%

53.8%

54.4%

42.9%

SL Frequency

3.2%

30.3%

15.8%

19.7%

21.0%

24.7%

CUT Frequency

7.8%

9.6%

10.4%

12.9%

19.6%

SPL Frequency

12.2%

12.4%

10.9%

18.9%

16.1%

11.7%

12.7%

CB Frequency

13.8%

19.7%

1.6%

Samardzija's repertoire has bounced around since his rookie season. Some of the changes were due to his ever-changing role, as the demands of starting and facing the top of the lineup three times required him to reach deeper into the bag of tricks than did the shorter stints in relief. His velocity spiked in 2011 and stayed within a rounding error of 96 mph on average for four straight seasons, but the impressive radar-gun readings were fewer and further between last season. The fastball frequency was the lowest of his career and the Shark's velocity was a full tick lower than his established level of the last four seasons, a combination that was not mutually exclusive. Throwing hard is key for Samardzija given the narrow velo band in which he throws all of his pitches, as his fastest and slowest offerings of 2015 fell within an average range of just 10 mph.

The Mechanics

Mechanics Report Card

2012

2013

2014

2015

Balance

70

65

60

60

Momentum

45

45

45

55

Torque

65

65

65

65

Posture

55

55

55

55

Repetition

60

50

55

50

Overall

B

B –

B –

B –

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Samardzija picked up the pace last season, upping the momentum to cross the fat part of the bell curve into above-average territory. Unfortunately, he had a tougher time repeating the quicker pace, resulting in frequently-missed targets that were related to his escalated frequency of homers allowed. The torque stayed the same despite the drop in velocity, and the decreased pitch-speed sans a dent to his hip-shoulder separation suggests that he lacked the physical baselines to hit the same highs in 2015, another concern when it comes to his long-term prognosis.

He has incorporated a reverse-twist into max leg lift (think Felix Hernandez) that has become more exaggerated over time, but he does a good job of tracking forward with his center-of-mass while the hips rotate away from the hitter rather than drifting backward as his first linear movement. The posture spiked 60-grade last season but more often fell into his usual 55-score for spine-tilt, and the adjustments simultaneously increase the likelihood that he can resurrect his previous level of performance while creating a longer road to get back.

The Verdict: Betting on Upside

The cliché is to say that Samardzija has a “fresh” arm due to the time he spent in relief (and playing football in college), but that supposed “freshness” is more closely tied to his preparation (conditioning and training) than any lack of pitches thrown in his past. The drop in velocity could be a temporary blip that bounces back next season, but similar to the case of Jordan Zimmermann, it's not encouraging when that velo dip comes from a pitcher that had been so consistent with his pitch-speed in the several years prior. A velocity dip that occurs in a pitcher's walk year is hardly the trend that one wants to see with a five-year contract on the line. The fact that Samardzija threw his heater at such a lower frequency indicates that he knew that something was off with the pitch, and the Giants better hope that the issue can be corrected lest they be hung with an albatross contract from a pitcher whose inconsistent track record inspires little confidence in his long-term value. Samardzija certainly has the capacity to earn more than his due, but the Giants paid for the upside rather than get a discount following his toughest year in the majors.

The Player: Hisashi Iwakuma

The Terms: Los Angeles Dodgers for 3 years, $45 million

Like Samardzija in the previous case, Iwakuma is coming off his worst season in the majors. Unlike the Shark, however, Iwakuma's difficulties were related to health more than performance, though his advanced age will work against him as Iwakuma attempts to get back on track in L.A.

Career Stats

GS

IP

ERA

WHIP

H%

HR%

BB%

K%

97

653.7

3.17

1.082

22.2%

3.1%

4.9%

21.1%

Iwakuma is coming off the highest ERA of his MLB career (3.54), but his 1.054 WHIP last season indicates that he was a bit unlucky. He walks hardly anyone so the onus is on what happens with the balls in play, and last season he churned out the lowest groundball rate of his career at just 46 percent (he previously sat between 50 and 53 percent). The K rate held firm with previous seasons but the contact indicators took a turn for the worst, so there is a decent chance that Iwakuma can improve upon last season's performance. The homers have been a bit of an issue for the groundball pitcher throughout his time in MLB, as the lack of horizontal variation on his pitches allows batters to take advantage when he leaves a pitch up in the zone.

The Stuff

2012

2013

2014

2015

FB Velocity

90.7

90.2

89.5

88.8

FB Frequency

52.5%

53.3%

48.7%

47.8%

SPL Frequency

21.9%

22.6%

27.3%

25.1%

SL Frequency

19.1%

18.0%

19.4%

17.5%

CB Frequency

6.5%

6.2%

3.2%

7.6%

CUT Frequency

1.3%

1.7%

Pitch-speed has never been a major part of Iwakuma's approach, relying instead on pinpoint control and a trap-door splitter that looks exactly like the fastball until the bottom falls out of the pitch. That said, the decreased velo spreads across his entire arsenal, giving batters an extra bit of time to identify the incoming pitch. The split has been a heavy part of Iwakuma's repertoire throughout his MLB career, accounting for more strikeouts than any other pitch in his bag and resulting in just a .185 batting average and a .265 slug from opponents in his career. In comparison, the slider is intended to keep batters honest and to give them a different look, but the pitch has been used to keep hitters off-balance earlier in the count rather than a two-strike weapon.

The Mechanics

Mechanics Report Card

2012

2013

2014

2015

Balance

70

70

70

Momentum

60

55

55

Torque

55

55

50

Posture

70

70

65

Repetition

65

70

65

Overall

A –

A –

B+

Iwakuma carries the classic NPB pause, halting his forward momentum at max leg lift with a mid-air pause before getting it going again towards the target. The initial move is solid and the second gear is plus, so his absolute grade for momentum earns an above-average grade despite his “stop at the top.” The key to Iwakuma's delivery is extraordinary stability that fuels excellent repetition, with near-perfect balance and posture that approaches ideal. The balance is basically perfect in the X- and Z-planes (side-to-side and rubber-to-plate), but he incorporates a drop after max leg lift to dent his grade in the Y direction.

It is very rare to see a pitcher with multiple grades of 70 or higher, so Iwakuma has earned his previous A's on the mechanics report card with a trio of mechanical traits that approach elite status. Two of those characteristics took a slight dip in 2015, perhaps due to the lat issue or maybe associated with age, but his posture and his repetition are both major assets to his approach that still flashed 70-grade efficiency when at peak in 2015. His knock to torque was likely related to both the lat issue and his velocity drop, and though the typical decline of pitch-speed as a pitcher gets into his late thirties will conspire to keep his radar gun readings low, there is a decent chance that a healthy Iwakuma is able to return to his days of above-average torque and 90-mph fastballs.

The Verdict: A solid risk that the club can afford to take

The cost and length of contract were drops in the bucket for a Los Angeles club that is sweating cash, and helps to address an obvious need for a ballclub that relied heavily on oft-injured starters in 2015. He won't replace Zack Greinke, of course, but Iwakuma provides the type of predictability and theoretical stability of performance to encourage optimism. That said, this is still a pitcher entering his age-35 season whose velocity has been on a precipitous down-slope for the past couple of seasons. The key is pitch command, and if Iwakuma returns to the level of performance that he displayed from 2012 through '14 then the Dodgers will have received a bargain on their investment. However, things could sour quickly if his decline continues unabated, and the Dodgers have to hope that last season's lat injury was a menace that will go away for the next three seasons.

Thank you for reading

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