Spring Training Surprise Candidate: Samardzija...as a starter

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.



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  • John, this could be huge for the top end of the rotation if Jeff puts it all together..HUGE!!!!! His stuff is great...control like you said..It's the difference between a stud and a stiff..After being rushe dto the bigs, maybe he's coming of age!!

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    His stuff is good and there's some reason to hope he can put it together. I guess if there's one thing I worry about his stuff is that it's all hard. He doesn't throw anything less than mid 80s. He may need to change speeds better as a starter.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I have preferred him in the pen so far, but if he can be better than a 4 that is a different story.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I think that's what it comes down to. If he proves to be significantly better than Wood, Volstad, or Wells he might get a spot but his numbers don't indicate that he will. Barring that, it would probably take an injury or two for him to have a chance, imo.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think he's a 3. And I think the Cubs should work hard to deal Garza to Detroit for Turner, Crosby, and Nick C. Detroit seem ready to pull the trigger and making this move would allow the Cubs to go with Dempster, Maholm, Samardzija, Wood and Volstad. Maybe throw in Randy Wells in the Garza trade for some insurance in the Garza deal and get a low-end prospect as well.

  • In reply to apalifer:

    Possibly, but Detroit isn't eager to pull the trigger on that kind of deal. Those are arguably their 3 best prospects. From the Cubs perspective, though, it's hard to settle for anything less since their system is basically Turner and Castellanos and then a big dropoff.

  • Like a few other Cubs, his development wasn't the best because it was a secondary sport for him at school.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    It did leave him as a raw college arm and a lot of his development occurred in the majors.

  • I say leave him in the bullpen, he's just now finding enough of a groove to be a effective reliever. He's never shown he's more than a 4 starter, I think his time to be a effective starter might have passed . Why disrupt things and see if he can be a starter again? He's finally found his niche, why screw it up ?

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    That is pretty much my stance unless they have unlocked another plus pitch or he has improved control.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    That's the key issue and why I think he needs to blow everyone away in camp to the point where they think his stuff/command can at least make him a #3 guy for you down the road. That's a tall order for him.

  • He may be coming around, growing up basically at Wrigley, spending some time down on the farm. Think it was in his contract that he had to be on the big team within "x" amount of time or he wouldnt sign, wasnt going to spend a bunch of time in the minors, something to that effect anyhow, guess I should have researched abit to get specifics huh. Anyhow, hope it's all coming together for him and the team, liked him as a TE, made some great plays, certainly is abit of transition time, he could be ready, what a plus if he is.

  • In reply to daddyo:

    It'd be a nice bonus. You'd always rather a guy can start because typically it's easier to find bullpen arms. It'll be interesting to watch, he's going to have to force the Cubs hand on this one. He'll have to convince scouts, coaching staff, front office, etc. that he can be a viable starter.

  • It's probably the time spent as a RP that has helped him. Some guys do well in that regard, while others just can't seem to get it together when they are placed into the starting rotation and end up in the bullpen.

  • In reply to lokeey:

    Agreed but it was a bumpy ride for him. His 2009/2010 seasons had a lot of people doubting him. It looks like he put it together last year.

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    I'm not too concerned about the bullpen at this point. Starting pitching should be a priority over relief anyday and I'm glad theres depth in the starting rotation. The Cubs might actually have a descent 4th and 5th starter since there's soooo much competition for those two spots. Also remember, a couple of the starters that don't make the rotation may fill some of our bullpen needs. If Samardzjia can pitch well enough to beat out the rest of the starters competing, then he should start.

  • In reply to Danny Guerra:

    How about this scenario? What if he barely beats out Chris Volstad? Let's say the Cubs front office projects Samardzija to have a 3.75 ERA and for Volstad to have a 3.90 ERA based on the past and what they've done this spring, but they project Samardzija to be much better in the bullpen than Volstad. Let's say a 3.05 ERA vs a 3.80 ERA. I think I'd take the slightly worse pitcher on the staff with the much stronger bullpen. The answer might be that Samardzija doesn't help the rotation as much as his absence would hurt the bullpen. That would make it a very tough scenario for everyone.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Even then it's close though. You bump Voltad's projected starter ERA to 4.06 instead of 3.9, you actually have less runs scored against you during the year starting Samardzija, even keeping the 3.05 vs. 3.80 bullpen ERA difference the same. More innings for a starter, of course, 200 versus about 80.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Your right! But you would think that the bullpen would be that much stronger. In reality, I crunched some numbers with the numbers you've provided for Samardzija and Volstad. Basically, Samardzija as starter and Volstad as a relief pitcher, they both would give up 4 more runs during the course of the year then as Volstad as starter and Samardzija as a relief pitcher. 3.75 ERA and 3.90 ERA is pretty close. I'd consider that pretty much a tie and yes, have Samardzija pitch from the pen while Volstad starts. In order for Samardzija to beat out Volstad, he'd need an ERA of 3.55 while Volstad would remain at 3.90 ERA.

  • How many years of control do we have on him? Through 2013? If so, it's tough because if we put him in a starter role and he shines, we're probably just going to lose him to free agency anyway. A shady team might keep him in relief just to cost control him. But I say you owe it to him - if he wins a starter's job out of spring training, give it to him. With all the arms we brought in, there's bound to be someone who can fill his role in the bullpen.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Kind of like what happened with Dempster. They made him a starter, he excelled, and they had to pay him big money as a FA that offseason. The decision would go like this to me: If I believe Samardzija helps the rotation significantly more than his absence hurts the bullpen, then I'd make the move. If Samardzija shows he can start, he'll make it a tough call.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That's where I'm going with this. Whether this is a "rebuilding" or "building" year, if Jeff proves he can be a better pitcher out of the rotation then Volstad, Wells, and Travis Wood, I would put him there. This is for the long haul and while he may chalk up more W's for the team this year out of the pen, if he can convert to a starting pitcher and have a great season, we are in prime position next year to sign a free agent and have a great starting three with a servicable 4 and 5.

    For the scary part, the only time I truly felt comfortable with the bull pen last year was when Marshall, Samardzija and to an extent Cashner were on the mound. Jeff as a starter makes me extremely nervous about the bullpen. The loss of Marshall is potentially the most devastating. From your "Power Arms" article, I would hope that Dolis, Mateo, Castillo, Maine, Gaub and Weathers could fill the void. But like I said, that is kind of unproven and scary.

    Still, the new regime is thinking long term. I don't think they'll consider whether they will lose a few more games this year if he starts or relieves if they believe it is better for the team down the road. Ask yourself this: Has Volstad proven that he deserves more of a chance to start than Samardzija? What about Wood? They are both coming off down years, unlike Jeff (The difference being that he is now a proven reliever.)

    But who knows? It worked for Dempster. It certainly worked for C.J. Wilson. Incidently, a quick overview of their statistics, C.J. averaged 5.2 walks at age 27 (albeit the highest average of his career by a point) while Jeff averaged 5.1. If he earns it, I think it is for the better of the team long term.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Funny you should say that, was just reading a Will Carroll article that said this about Ryan Dempster...

    The Angels point to Ryan Dempster when they're asked about C.J. Wilson and his big contract. The career paths aren't identical, but with these results, it's surprising more teams don't at least try it.

    Cubs will have to ask themselves if they should try it with Samardzija. I'd be interested to see how he'd do.

  • Why not just try him as a starter? I know it might be incrementally better for the team to have him in relief, but this is a rebuilding year, isn't it? Might as well see what he's got.

    Additionally, I know it's nice to have 9 starters and all, but I've got to think we could trade, say, a Randy Wells for a decent reliever. I can't see all of these guys happily and effectively biding their time in the bullpen in case a starter falters.

  • In reply to mosconml:

    You and BTC have similar thoughts on the rebuilding angle and it's a valid one. If you think he can be a better long term SP than the guys that are in camp, then you should probably do that. I'm just not sure Samardzija has done enough to convince anyone of that yet. Last year was his first solid season in relief, not counting the 2008 late season call up.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree with Mosconml. The Cubs can afford to take chances this year, not just with the "bounce back" position player candidates that Hoyerstein have signed, but also with "potential starting pitcher" candidates. The reward of discovering a #3 caliber starter from our own bullpen as opposed to trading valuable prospects for one is worth the risk of having a diminished bullpen in 2012.
    If the FO believes Shark has that kind of potential, this is the year to find out.
    As for what to do with one of the surplus #5 starters we acquired once Shark steals his innings, I'm not sure.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    It wouldn't upset me if they did a little experimenting. And like you said, you'll never know what you find. Worst case scenario is he gets lit up James Russell style and you put him back in the bullpen.

  • He is the one factor that could be a lightning rod for this team. Maybe he fails in camp, but if he gets his command going then he projects to be a #3. Our rotation is Garza,Demp,Shark,Maholm and Wood and that is probably enough pitching to get you in contention in the NLC. Do you realize how much $ the owners will be making if this team is contending this year? With the reduced payroll it will be huge for the owners, especially when noone expects it. They have a long-term plan but they would also like to make more money if it presents itself.

  • In reply to Cuyler:

    The organization has spent quite a bit on non-roster expenses this season that if they break even in 2012 I'd be shocked.

    $20 million on McD's land parcel.
    $25 million on international signings and amateur draft signings.
    $15 million on stadium improvements.(New bleacher sec, new seats in grandstands.)
    $5 million DR Academy construction.
    $10-$20 million for new Arizona Complex.
    $104 million for the current 40 man roster.

    That's at least $179 to $189 million out the door in 2012 not even including the increased front office operating expenses.

  • I look at it this way. If Shark proves himself in ST as a starter then he should be one. This puts a whole new set of dominoes in motion. There is a way to get Shark, Volstad and Wood into the rotation. We all talk about the trade value of Garza now or mid-season - which would open up a spot. best case scenario IMO is they all excel as SP's including Maholm and Dempster. That's a big if, but wow, then they have some cards to play trade wise and value wise mid-season.

  • Wouldn't be surprised to see Maholm and Dempster dealt at all. They won't require as big a return, of course, as Garza and conservative teams may go that route. The Garza trade is always possible, but it doesn't seem right now like teams are willing to up the ante. Could change if he has another big year.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think this would be the best scenario. If we can extend Garza, and if Shark can turn into a front of the rotation type starter, it would really speed up our time frame for being competitive for a WS. Don't get me wrong, if Detroit goes nuts and gives us Turner + one of the lefties and Castelenos for Garza, you have to do it. But I'm with you, I don't see them stepping up to the plate with any offers like that.

    I'm really pleased with this offseason as I look back on it. Our minor league system got a nice shot in the arm, and our starting rotation is much deeper than i can ever remember. It may not have star power, and that's why it would be great if Shark all of a sudden figures it all out. But as a collection, we have a lot of capable major league arms in the rotation. I'm really interested to see Wood and Volstad this year. They could end up being absolute steals for us!

    As for Randy Wells, I think he becomes our D.J Carrasco. When games are out of hand, he can be the guy that can eat up 3-4-5 innings when needed. I guess he could always pull a last spring, when he turned heads and earn a spot in the rotation....I'll kind of be dissapointed if that happens though. It sounds bad, but I feel I already know what Randy Wells is. I'm looking forward to watiching Wood and Volstad.

    I see the Maholm signing as just a short term assett. He gives you a solid innings eater if you keep him around. But the true intent is just to rent some innings and then cash him in for a prospect before the deadline. I don't see Dempster waving his no trade. He seems intent on sticking around and trying to win over the new regime.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    I'm excited to see those two SP acquisitions as well. Have heard good things about both of them as possible long term bottom of the rotation guys. Really looking forward to see what they can do. Volstad is just huge and I'd really like to see him work on keeping the ball down -- like the idea of a two seamer coming from that height on a sharp downward plane.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    "and our starting rotation is much deeper than i can ever remember."

    Then you don't remember 2003 very well.

    (Wood, Prior, Zambrano, Clement, Estes.)

    Or 2008 very well either.

    (Zambrano, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, Marquis.)

  • In reply to Northside Neuman:

    Remember them just fine. Depth doesn't mean a better starting 5. If we have injury or if a guy or two fall on their face, we actually have 8-9 guys capable of giving quality innings, and hopefully a nice sleeper in Shark.

    If we put that quote in context of the paragraph, it was a comment on how pleased with this offseason I am. Not to mention, the next comment after that quote in which I make mention to a lack of star power in the starting 5. Again, the depth due to the moves. I can't remember a club hitting spring training with that many viable options for the rotation. Theo and Jed did a nice job considering what they had to work with.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    Lets not forget in 2008 Rich Harden was traded for at mid-season. Rich Hill actually was in the rotation to start the year, then Sean Gallagher and Sean Marshall got starts before we got Harden. So yes, I remember just fine.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    Then you should recognize your error, since 2008 we were very deep and had a great deal more talent on the roster than this rotation.

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    I just want Samninja to get a haircut. :)

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Ha! Also want him to get off my lawn and stop listening to all that rock and roll music ;)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    LOL, these kids today! But seriously folks. I have to think there will be trades between now and the deadline. It all depends on performance and what is best for the team in the long run.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    He is looking scraggly. I would be so happy if he is an effective starter, that just gives us some real depth and possibly more security to deal Garza.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Don't be a fool....he'd lose his arm strength!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Completely off topic, but does anyone know if the Cubs continue to work out at Fitch Park after spring training games have begun? I am taking my son to Sunday's game and I was considering taking to Fitch that morning.

  • In reply to RSBeast:

    Any AZ/Spring Training vets out there know the answer? I always thought Fitch Park would continue to be used by the minor league players (those not at MLB spring training, so guys like Vogelbach, Maples, Baez, etc.)

  • Yes I've been reading Paul Sullivan. And yes it is hard to do. But I like the Cubs a lot so...
    Anyway, here is a question that got me thinking along with Paul's response:

    Question:Do you think the trade of Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo will help? I would have traded Jeff Samardjiza instead of Cashner. Don Workman, Posen, Ill.

    Response: I'm pretty sure it will work for both sides. Rizzo will be the Cubs' first baseman for years, and Cashner will either be the Padres' closer or a quality starter for years, health permitting. Not sure if trading Samardzija would've gotten the deal done.

    Would you rather still have Cashner on the team or Samardzija. I personally would rather have Samardzija. Even though he is older, I worry about Cashner's health issues more and I see more of an upside with Samardzija. Thoughts?

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    BTC, I agree with you. Shark has been pretty durable, and that can't be undervalued. Cashner is huge talent, but the injuries don't look good for him.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    I'd rather have Cashner. He has two plus-plus pitches and better command. I don't think he'll start but I think he'll be a closer. If Samardzija winds up being a big innings eating mid-rotation starter, then I'd probably prefer him -- but we'll see if that happens first.

  • If Samardzija can be a mid-rotation starter, then his value to this team is better starting now. Extend Garza and you are starting on the path to a winning rotation in 2014. That would be way more valuable than any additional wins this year that he might give by filling the bullpen need.

  • In reply to drben:

    Agreed, my contention isn't to leave him in pen for the benefit of this season but to get the most out of him in the long run. I always hated when teams bounced guys around. I still believe the Cubs f'd up Juan Cruz like that.

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