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Metrics not kind to Jeff Samardzija, Jose Quintana

When projection systems look at pitchers’ metrics, they see more dominance for White Sox ace Chris Sale. Regardless of whether you’re looking at a 2.89 ERA and 3.03 FIP – fielding independent pitching – on the ZIPS projection at Fangraphs.com or a 2.79 ERA and 3.04 “fair run average” in the PECOTA system at BaseballProspectus.com, you’re seeing Cy Young contender numbers.

But for the other members of the Sox’ top of the rotation big three, projections are more cautious. Jose Quintana, who posted a 3.32 ERA and 2.81 FIP last season, shows up at 3.88, 3.62 for 2015 on ZIPS and 3.76 ERA, 4.02 FRA on PECOTA.

Jeff Samardzija, splitting his time between the Cubs and Athletics last season, had a 2.99 ERA and 3.20 FIP, but projects to 3.90, 3.64 via ZIPS and 4.12 ERA with a 4.47 FRA by PECOTA.

In Quintana’s case, it’s partly a matter of projection systems wanting to see him do it again. A player’s full career trajectory is taken into account, usually with special emphasis on the last three years.

Last season was Quintana’s third, so his 3.76 ERA, 4.23 FIP of 2012 and 3.51, 3.81 of ’13 are influencing the projections. Last year, 5.1 percent of his fly balls allowed were home runs, compared with 10.5 percent in 2012 and 10.2 percent in ’13. Until he does that again, projections will show home runs allowed rising, and ZIPS projects an increase from 0.45 to 0.81 homers per nine innings.

Samardzija also showed a decline in home runs as a percentage of flyballs. After his HR/FB reached 12.8 percent in 2012 and 13.3 percent in 2013, it dropped to 10.6 percent last season.

In addition, his groundball percentage has been increasing, and that brings down his overall home run rate. Last year, 50.2 percent of batted balls against him were grounders, compared to 48.2 percent the year before and 46.2 percent for his career.

That’s all encouraging, but Samardzija spent the second half of last season in an A’s ballpark that decreases home runs, and now is coming to U.S. Cellular Field, which is a good home run park. Last season, the A’s and their opponents homered 90 percent as often in home games as in away games, while the White Sox and their opponents homered 105 percent as often in the Cell.

Instead of the 0.82 home runs per nine innings Samardzija allowed last season, ZIPS projects an increase to 1.11. There are lots of other factors, including coming to a team whose defense was minus-56 in runs saved last season after pitching for the A’s, who were plus-32, and Cubs, a little less negative than the Sox at minus-23. Projections also will start building in some wear and tear now that Samardzija has turned 30.

Sox fans certainly can hope for continued improvement by Quintana at age 26 and high performance by Samardzija, who has had only three full seasons as a starter. The numbers just raise a few caution flags.