Nothing went right for Jeff Samardzija on the South Side of Chicago last year. Not only did he give up more homers than he ever had, which could be understandable in that ballpark, but he also struck out fewer batters than he ever had as a starter, got fewer swings and misses and basically just had the worst season of his career.
This year, "The Shark" has his bite back. Going into tonight's game, he has added whiffs, subtracted home runs and is showing the second-best ERA of his career as a starter.
So what's different? If you examine the numbers, nothing obvious stands out. His pitches are generally the same; his average fastball velocity is nearly identical; and though he's throwing the cutter a bit more and the slider and splitter a bit less, he's still throwing the same stuff. His ground ball rate is a lot better -- he posted his second-lowest rate in 2015 and now has his second-highest -- but it's not immediately clear why that's better.
But the pitcher himself provided some clarity. The answer is complicated, but at least there's a satisfying answer.