Samardzija and Lahair Struggling to Get Their Mojo Back
So about that Jeff Samardzija transformation and “Is Bryan Lahair for real?” argument — what the hell happened? I guess you can call it hometown bias, or maybe just a jinx, but I really thought that Jeff Samardzija had finally turned a corner in his career and Brian Lahair was going to be legit after such a late start to his career in the majors. Whether it’s a coincidence or not that Samardzija was a month-long embarrassment directly following the article I wrote about him and his transcendence, I’m not sure, but before last night’s gem, something was not right with him. And as for Lahair – well, let’s just hope his somewhat surprising All-Star selection gives him the confidence, or mojo, if you will, to perform the way he did in April.
After posting a 2.48 ERA and striking out an incredible nine batters per nine innings in May, there was no denying that Jeff Samardzija was finally becoming the pitcher everyone expected him to become when he was drafted out of Notre Dame in 2006. His control was top-notch, and he had been getting ahead of a majority of the hitters he faced, which made his job a hell of a lot easier. Once June rolled around, though, Samardzija’s season took a turn for the worse. He ended up winless at 0-4 with an abysmal 10.48 ERA, 2.06 WHIP and – get this – a whopping .330 opponents’ batting average. There are honestly no words to describe how bad those numbers really are, but had he not been so dominant and electric in May, he would have easily been sent back down to the minors to work out his kinks.
It’s tough to pinpoint one specific reason for his struggles, but control has to be at the top of the list. Samardzija walked nearly as many batters in June (15 in 23.1 innings) as he did and April and May combined (19 in 64 innings), and he was giving up nearly 13 hits per nine innings. The funny thing about baseball, however, is that you never, ever know what will happen next. Somehow, someway, Samardzija walked into Turner Field in Atlanta on Monday night and went seven strong innings while striking out a career-high 11 batters. I’d like to think that this is a sign of good things to come, and that the atrocity we saw last month was no more than a giant fluke.
As far as Bryan Lahair is concerned, I couldn’t be happier for him. Making the All-Star team can’t be understated, and it’s an incredible accomplishment for a player who had to endure about eight years in the minor leagues before finally sticking to a major league roster at age 29. Nevertheless, Lahair’s torrid rampage throughout the month of April certainly has not carried any momentum whatsoever into July, and his numbers prove it. After cranking five homers, driving in 14 runs, and putting up insane .390/.471/.780 splits in his first 20 games, Lahair has gone ice cold. He drove in a combined 14 runs over the past two months and posted .231/.286/.400 splits during June. For a guy who was called on to be the Cubs’ main run producer and was batting clean up for a good portion of the season, that lack of production just isn’t going to cut it.
All that said, I still haven’t even gotten to the worst part. Against lefties this season, Lahair has a grand total of three hits – I repeat, three hits – in 38 at-bats. That’s good for a .079 batting average to go along with a .186 on-base percentage and .156 slugging percentage. I definitely just threw up in my mouth. And to add to my nausea, Lahair is batting .137 with one home run (three extra-base hits) in 51 at-bats this year with runners in scoring position versus .336 with eight home runs (16 extra-base hits) in 122 at-bats with the bases empty. Simply put, Lahair never could, and probably never will, hit left-handed pitching if his life depended on it, and he’s probably one of the most un-clutch (I completely made that word up just now) hitters in the National League.
Lahair has come back down to earth since that epic month to open the season, so my optimistic view of him being “for real” was simply that – optimistic. If Lahair does happen to turn things around again, he’d make for even better trade bait, especially for an American League club. But if the Cubs do decide to keep him, here’s to hoping that he gets in touch with the April baseball gods and torches through the rest of the summer for a team who so desperately needs him to produce.