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2012 ends early for Samardzija, but can he be the Cubs ace in 2013?

2012 ends early for Samardzija, but can he be the Cubs ace in 2013?

Not many fans had a lot of faith that Jeff Samardzija would end up being a viable starter, much less a good one.  Heck, he wasn't even a very good reliever until the 2nd half of last season.

Can he actually be the Cubs ace next season?

Samardzija made his final start of the season and finished strong.  Despite a 9-13 record, Samardzija is looking like like a legit top of the rotation starter for next season to team with Matt Garza.  If Garza is still around, that is.

In his first full season as a starter, Samardzija had a solid ERA of 3.81 and walked just 2.89 per 9 innings while striking out 9.27.  His xFIP of 3.39 was the best on the team and ranked 17th in all of baseball.  He was worth 3.5 WAR last season, good for 23rd in baseball.

His best two pitches, fastball and splitter, were legitimate plus-plus pitches this season.  The fastball was at 95-98 mph with great arm-side run that he maintained deep into games.    The splitter, which was his go-to pitch with two strikes, was even better.  Batters hit just .132 against it and, according to a Fangraphs article, it accounted for 41% of his strikeouts (as of the August writing) despite being thrown just 17% of the time, making it a second legitimate out-pitch.  Fangraphs called it perhaps the best split-fingered fastball in the game.

The slider was hit or miss this year and it was the pitch he most had trouble with when he tried to force it.  When it was on, however, it had a short, but sharp break and gave him a 3rd effective pitch to count on.  When he had all 3 going with his good command, Samardzija showed flashes of dominance you normally associate with the #1 starters in this league.

The control is now at least average and in some areas it is above average.  He started throwing more fastball for strikes.  Whereas last year it was below 50%, (47.9), this year as of August it had increased to 58.8%.  His ability to get ahead of hitters this year allowed him to put hitters away with the split-finger more often than he ever had in the past.

The Cubs shut down Samardzija because his innings nearly doubled from 88 to 174.2.  There have been studies done about the effect of such an innings increase, but much of that focuses on pitchers less than 25 years of age and you will note that the risk is a lot less for older, big-bodied pitchers.  Samardzija is well beyond the 25 year mark and at a sculpted 6'5", 225 lbs, he certainly qualifies as a big-bodied pitcher, so there is less to worry about.  But with the season lost and the Cubs entering next season with 2 possible rotation members (Garza and Arodys Vizcaino) coming off of serious injuries, even a low-risk is completely unnecessary.

Samardzija should come into 2013 healthy and ready to take on a full load.  He's already a top 3 starter and if he continues to build on the progress he made in terms of stuff and command, we could be looking at the Cubs ace next season -- even if Garza does return.

Filed under: Analysis

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  • John, Not only does Samardzija need to be the ace of the staff, he needs to put that Notre Dame education to work and be the team leader.

  • In reply to IVYADDICT:

    Good point. I think he has it in him to be a staff leader. He wants the ball, he's competitive, works hard, and as you implied he's probably a pretty smart guy.

    It's not hard picturing him being the guy you most trust in a big game. I like Garza, but I think he's a #2 at best.

  • I think if the Cubs can pick up a real #1 FA, we could surprise a lot of people and put a lot more keesters in the stands, especially of Wood progresses and Volstead can just pitch instead of think.

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    In reply to SFToby:

    Rarely, if ever does a true blue #1 make it to free agency this day in age. Hell we can probably count on two hands how many legitimate aces are in this game and their teams lock them up. They are that rare and most if not all are homegrown....I agree with your points though.

    Our best bet at another #1 to compliment shark is to develop our own Cole hamlets, Justin Verlander, etc. My bet is on Vizcaino or Mark Appel, if we get him.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    we definitely need to develop our own aces, but we also need to add a solid FA pitcher in the offseason, not necessarily a #1. If we had a legitimate SP pitching prospect in AA or AAA this year, then it's different, but we can not field a team with journeyman minor league pitchers when you are in a market this big. They can field players with raw talent who need more development, not players with borderline ML talent potential.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Not sure they're one pitcher away at this point. There's a lot of holes. A lot of these guys you call "real" #1s didn't pitch so much better than Dempster, Garza, and Shark this year that it would make a big difference in the standings.

  • Interesting seeing Travis Wood on last year's at risk. Wonder if it had anything to do with his troubles.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Could be. Baker certainly doesn't do pitchers any favors. He seemed to stay healthy this year but I don't know if it affected him in any other way. Older reports had him hitting 93 but I don't think I saw him get that high this year. He was 88-91 for the most part.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    There was I think one start this year where he sat around 90-93 occasionally hitting 94 when he needed to. If he can regain that form he can be a mainstay.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    If he can do that it would allow him to get away with a couple more mistakes.

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    As one of the biggest shark rotation supporters going back even before this year I'm glad I was right about him. He just always had the look of a frontline starter to me and I got laughed at lol

    one interesting question John. Going into the season I remember you saying if you had to choose between Shark and Cashner you'd take Cashner without a doubt with his upside. Do you still feel the same way? I gave shark a slight edge for durability but now without a doubt I take Jeff.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I think durability is the key here and right now you have to take Shark. I wish we could have both, though!

  • I have been really impressed with Shark this year. He has shown a lot of promise, but I have really liked his competitiveness especially when things weren't always going well for him. His work ethic and his desire to improve are outstanding.
    I remember hearing that Greg Maddux, once he decided to join the Ranger's front office, was trying to get Texas to acquire him. So obviously, he must have seen a lot in Shark, that has, in some cases, only truly begun to surface this season.
    If he can develop that slider and continue to keep his control in check he could end up becoming one of the best, if not the best starting pitcher the Cubs have had since Maddux won his first Cy Young award before leaving to go to Atlanta.

  • The best story for the Cubs this year is Shark. He really has the 'makeup' of a stud starting pitcher. Who expected that? Fans were hopeful, but I know of no one who could predict his consistency.

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    Good comments here, the short answer is YES, because who else do we have who is our #1? Unless we spend $100mil-ish to sign Zach Grienke, Shark is the man by default.

    We really need impact pitching prospects in our system; Vizcaino has the stuff, but there are serious doubts whether he can stay as a starter. Beyond him, nobody on the immediate horizon.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    If we get lucky and Appel falls to us and Paniagua rises fast....

  • In reply to Zonk:

    That's really what it boils down to Zonk. There are other opportunities out there to find a #1, but Shark has the best shot at the moment. That could change if guys develop, but for now, he's the horse to bet on.

  • Hey John, long time since I posted here, but I have been keeping up with the minor league updates. Thanks for doing them again!

    I believe Samardzija has elevated himself into a TOR starter now. I think he falls more into the #2 starter category than a true ace #1 starter, but he could get there someday if he further refines his command and improves his slider or changeup so that he has 3 legit pitches he can go to.

    Again, I hate to bring this up, but I remember reading that article where you talked to a scout about his thoughts on this Cubs team. If I recall correctly he thought Samardzija would be better utilized as a closer or power arm out of the bullpen instead of as a starter. I vehemently disagreed with that suggestion, and I believe I was right. He should remain a starter, and putting him in the bullpen is wasting his talents. Again, not to knock that scout or you guys for posting those thoughts, but scouts sometimes just make suggestions or scouting reports based on a few starts or the few times they've seen someone. I bet that scout would change his mind now on how best to use Samardzija...

  • In reply to I miss Ron Santo:

    I agree. I wouldn't call him a #1, but the ingredients are there. #2 is more likely, though.

    There was a lot of skepticism on him -- and some of it came from the top evaluators in the game. But even the best ones will tell you they're wrong often. I think that might be the case with Samardzija.

    I love projections on players, but it's always a fluid situation. You always have to readjust that baseline. In Shark's case, the projections for him next year as a starter are going to look a whole lot different

  • John
    Im sure youre going to touch on this at some point but where do you see the Garza situation.
    Can the Cubs get a more team friendly multi-year deal due to his injured status if they try to extend him this offseason?
    I cant see the Cubs trading him in the winter, due to the fact that his injury wont get back high value deal so do you see a 1 year deal (final arb year) & showcasing him in Spring training for a trade so the Cubs can get better prospects at that time? Seems like the one time youre going to maximize trade value.

  • In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    The choice for Garza and the Cubs is simple. It's either going to be a team friendly deal or he'll get traded. It's going to depend on how badly Garza wants to get that security he's never had in the majors.

    If he does get traded, it will be in the spring unless the Cubs showcase him in winter ball as they did with Carlos Zambrano, but I think that's less likely with Garza.

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