The countdown to Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo has officially begun.
On a serious note, I still feel this team will be more fun to watch than the last two miserable editions. Looking forward to younger players like Jackson and Rizzo joining Starlin Castro could be the highlights however.
If you listen to Bradley Woodrum of Fangraphs, you may start to entertain the idea that Jeff Samardzija will be one of those to watch.
Woodrum thinks Samardzija gradually changed his approach last season, and really started mixing up his repertoire this spring. Woodrum shows you the difference in Shark’s career reliance on his pitches vs. this past Sunday’s start.
The numbers are intriguing.
If Samardzija keeps trending up, there maybe some credit due to new pitching coach Chris Bosio.
You could also look back and easily wonder if Larry Rothschild dropped the ball here. The Cubs scouts were high on the former football star, and thought he was top of the rotation material. I nevertheless was told a few seasons back (former Cubs coach) that he lacked the necessary third pitch to be an effective starter.
That is not the case according to Woodrum.
Now we can clearly see why the Chicago Cubs scouts have loved Samardzija for so long — he throws really hard and has some obliterating pitches (two obliterators, to be precise, one good-enough-er, and one uh-that’s-enougher). But we need to see some actual positive signs before we crown him a capable starter. Well, look no further than the past year.
The key could be him relying less on his sometimes straight four-seam fastball, and using his slider. Woodrum thinks it could be his out pitch.
• Slider (SL), used (Career)13.9%: On Sunday night, Samardzija twirled his slide-piece 20.9% of the time. Again, this appears to be tantamount to a new approach for Samardzija — less laser beam fastball, more wobbly stuff. His slider stays around the mid 80s speed-wise, and has historically, even when he was struggling, been his best pitch. Presumably, if he throws more of this and his two-seamers, his other pitches — the fastball and changeup — can become even better (a la Tim Wakefield‘s fastball). By forcing the good stuff on the hitters — and the FT and SL seem to be very good — his “eh” stuff becomes better.
I will posit that this last year suggests, above all, that Samardzija can be a capable starter. Maybe never a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, but he could perceivably maintain an ERA-/FIP- in the 85 to 95 range (think: Shaun Marcum or Mark Buehrle). For a Cubs organization desperate for pitching depth, that is huge.
Oh it’s still early, but it’s refreshing to think we may have found another building block. It’s also encouraging to see that this staff is trying to squeeze the best out of what they inherited, instead of making excuses that certain players couldn’t be developed.