Back in September, I projected Jeff Samardzija as a starter. As you might expect, there are both positive and negatives to this potential conversion. Things have also changed since then. One change is that trades/transactions this offseason have changed the makeup of the roster. It left the Cubs with more depth in the rotation and a little less depth in their bullpen. Samardzija was one of the guys they were counting on in the late innings. The Cubs already have holdover Randy Wells plus newcomers Travis Wood and Chris Volstad vying for the last two spots in the rotation and the Cubs may decide that keeping Samardzija in the pen is best for the team.
The other change has been with Samardzija himself.
The first things to note about Samardzija is that 1) he has a tremendous arm and 2) he is an excellent athlete, and you can't underestimate the advantage of that when it comes to pitchers making improvements, particularly with their command. Good athletes are often better at repeating their delivery and it helps them with control and command with their pitches. With his natural ability, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him continue to get better even beyond what would normally be considered his peak years. It seems he's turning some heads in camp. Ken Rosenthal tweeted this today,
Emergence of Samardzija as legit rotation candidate an interesting development in #Cubs camp. Great athlete, may be figuring it out.
Dale Sveum, however, has said that Samardzija is throwing well, but it's not anything they didn't expect based on his strong arm and the way he pitched the last few months of the season.
We know Samardzija can throw hard, but what about his secondary pitches?
Baseball Prospectus called his slider a plus pitch in 2009. In the same year, Baseball America had this to say about Samardzija's secondary pitches,
His splitter can be a devastating swing-and-miss pitch, and his slider is a plus offering at times.
It certainly hasn't gotten worse since then. In fact, Pitch F/X data shows that his slider was more effective than ever last year and had 4 solid pitches overall. He also threw harder than ever, led by a fastball that averaged 95 mph last season. And while velocity often decreases when RPs switch to starting (see Sean Marshall), Samardzija's size, strength and athleticism make him a good candidate to retain good velocity late into games. With velocity, a second plus pitch, and a 4 pitch repertoire overall, Samardzija has the tools to be something better than just another bottom of the rotation guy.
So what can potentially hold Samardzija back is not a lack of secondary pitches. There are two bigger obstacles. This first is command and as an unexperienced hurler, Samardzija has struggled with it for his whole career. The second is team need. The Cubs have depth in the rotation and need in the bullpen. The
For now, Samardzija is getting his opportunity. It's early, but so far this spring it looks like he's building on last season's success. Samardzija, though, will probably need to blow everyone away this spring and, given how much the team is depending on him in the bullpen, it still may not be enough. Unless Samardzija can show he's significantly better than most of the other pitchers in camp, there seems little incentive to disrupt the bullpen when their rotation would be just as well off with Chris Volstad or Randy Wells.