Jeff Samardzija could qualify for the ERA title with zero wins

May 8

(AP Photo)

Jeff Samardzija is currently 0-3 with a 1.62 ERA. In the short season, he’s already been good for 2.0 rWAR. We can fairly predict that as long as he stays healthy, he’ll eventually win his first game: no pitcher has ever qualified for the ERA title with 0 wins.

(Qualifying for the ERA title requires a pitcher to pitch one inning per game played by their team. In most years, that is 162 innings. From 1901 to 2013, every pitcher who threw at least that many innings managed at least one win.)

But he might still remain in miserable company. Since the end of World War II, there have only been 12 pitchers who have EVER qualified for the ERA title with an ERA+ over 100 (which is league average) and a won-loss percentage of .300 or worse. It is a tragically snakebit list:

Player WAR ERA+ W-L%
Steve Rogers 4.8 116 0.292
Andy Benes 3.7 107 0.300
Lou Brissie 3.4 113 0.269
Paul Minner 3.1 109 0.261
Tony Saunders 3.0 116 0.286
Jerry Koosman 2.9 107 0.286
Mark Hendrickson 2.6 108 0.286
Paul Maholm 2.5 102 0.300
John Buzhardt 2.4 101 0.238
Howie Fox 2.0 106 0.240
John Dopson 1.9 118 0.214
Chris Bosio 1.6 113 0.286

The best of those pitchers was Steve Rogers in 1976, later the star-crossed victim of the last playoff loss in Montreal Expos history, Blue Monday. Next was Andy Benes, who actually garnered an MVP vote in 1994 despite being 6-14 at the time of the baseball strike. The fifth-best season was had by Tony Saunders, who went 6-15 in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ inaugural season of 1998; the following year, he broke his arm mid-pitch in one of the most painful sports replays ever shown; despite an abortive comeback attempt, he never pitched in the major leagues again.

But then again, the list of unfortunate Chicago Cubs pitchers is a good deal longer. Three Hall of Famers had seasons with losing records for the Cubs: a pre-closer Dennis Eckersley and post-prime Greg Maddux each had one; the great Ferguson Jenkins had four of them.

This year, Samardzija has had seven starts; he has not gone fewer than 5 2/3 innings or allowed more than three runs in any of them. He got saddled with a 2-0 loss in an April 5 game where he went seven innings and allowed both runs, and he got a gut-wrenching no-decision in a May 5 game against the White Sox where he went nine innings, striking out seven, walking two, allowing three hits and only an unearned first-inning run, while the Cubs lost 3-1 in 12 innings. The game score for that game was 84; it was the 15th-highest game score of the season. But it wasn’t enough to make winners out of the Lovable Losers.

Jeff Samardzija is expected to be one of the most prized arms on the midseason trade market, controlled by a Chicago Cubs club that is likely at least two years away from playoff contention. Naturally, his prospective employers are likely to care far more about his microscopic ERA than they are about his unfortunate winlessness, which is more a reflection on his teammates’ inability to hit than on his own ability to pitch.

But judging by the names on that list, he’d probably like to win a game soon.

Alex Remington is a product manager at The Washington Post and a writer for the Hardball Times. He has written for Fangraphs and Yahoo Sports, and currently manages Braves Journal.

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