Don't talk shit about Jeff Samardzija.
I will end you.
Shark was everything you could want in a baseball player. Aggressive, hard-working. Aspired to be the best. Honest. A good teammate. Put winning first. These things may sound like sports clichés but they're not always true of every player. With Shark, they were, and are.
Oh, and he's talented. At 6'5", 225, he's got the build to be a front-line starter. I hope he's able to pitch that way for many years.
Shark has always brought the heat -- but it took him a while to figure out how to use it. Jim Hendry gave him $10 million over 5 years to keep him out of the NFL, which may have served as motivation to accelerate his development schedule. Kind of a terrible way of doing things but no one's ever made me GM of the Cubs.
Shark posted a nice enough ERA (2.70) in his first year of pro sportsing, pitching 30 innings across low-A and A ball. But you had to wonder where the strikeouts were, with just 17 of them in that first year of action.
Despite not exactly dominating A ball, Shark was promoted in 2007 to Daytona -- and thus began a series of moves where Jeff was promoted before totally and definitively earning it, then pitching even better in the next level up. Shark managed just 45 strikeouts in 107 innings in Daytona, for example, and posted a 1.65 WHIP. But he was promoted to AA anyway, upon which time his K-rate went up, his walk rate went down, and his ERA fell by a run and a half. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Shark returned to AA in 2008, and pitched even worse than before: he had nearly as many walks (42) as strikeouts (44) in 76 innings. But, hey, are you thinking what I'm thinking? PROMOTION!!! So to Iowa he was sent.
Strangely, the guy who struggled with far too many walks and not near enough strikeouts blossomed in Triple-A. Still just 23, Shark managed 40 strikeouts in 37.1 innings pitched at Iowa, across six starts. Once again, Shark had taken another step forward despite having shown no mastery of the lower level whatsoever.
And so let's think about this: if he pitches better and better every time we promote him, what do y'all think we should do? BOOM, WE'RE DOING THIS. July 25, 2008: Jeffrey Alan Samardzija debuts for the Chicago Cubs, a very hairy cherry on top of what many of us will remember as being one of the most fun seasons to be a Cub fan ever. (Minus the playoffs of course lolol brb laughing til I cry)
Now that we're talking about the major leagues I can go get some velocity data for you. Shark was a four-pitch pitcher out of the pen in 08 that frequently found the high 90s on his four-seamer and sinker. (Brooks says he hit 99 in his debut.) He threw a slider in the mid to low 80s, and had a nasty splitter that we would all come to love, tossing that at around 88.
Shark kept getting K's in the bigs, which was awesome. But it was also pretty much clear that the 23 year old had not had sufficient time to develop sufficient command of the strike zone. In that debut season, he walked 15 batters in 27.2 innings, which should have told us that things weren't right. Then in 2009 it all went to hell.
09 and 10 we could call the "shuttle years": as Shark struggled with command, the stupid ass management people kept moving him back and forth between Triple A and MLB. I don't claim to know anything about developing minor leaguers into major league talent but I remember being incensed the whole time this was going on. Just stupid stupid stupid.
All's well that ends well I guess but 2009 was a forgettable year for Shark, as he was moved back and forth between AAA and MLB a stupid FIVE TIMES in 2009, then twice more in 2010. In those two years, Shark walked more batters than he struck out at the major league level.
In 2011, despite the Cubs' best efforts to ruin EVERYTHING, Shark found the groove, kinda. He was a useful reliever, albeit on a fucking awful team. The walks were still a significant problem at 5 per 9, but whether it was luck or good stuff shining through, the rest of his numbers held up.
Remember that earlier bit about how we decided to promote Shark over and over despite his not having earned it? Would you believe it happened again in 2012? Here's what Jeff had to say back in February of that year, when new management (luv u theo) told him he would be considered for a spot in the rotation. From this Paul Sullivan story (luv u paul):
"It's definitely a different experience," he said. "When I did it in '08 and '09 competing for a spot, I didn't really put too much into it. I just figured you go out, have a couple of starts and they put you in the rotation and that's how it went.
You didn't really put much into it?!? Geez way to inspire confidence! I guess you were barely 23 or whatever. So what about this year then? (This year being 2012 remember this is a time machine experience.)
"I'm a little more aware of it now and the seriousness of camp, especially for the rotation, and I'm taking it seriously. I wanted to come into camp in midseason form and I think I have done that. I just want to carry that into BP sessions and then when the game starts."
Apparently when Jeff Samardzija takes something seriously, good things happen. (Damn where was the coaching before then??) Shark showed up in the biggest of big ways that year, pumping gas, striking guys out, limiting walks. You know how General Sherman burned his way to and through Atlanta? It was like that, but with baseballs.
The final line for Jeff in 2012: 174.2 IP, 180 SO, 56 BB, and a 3.81 ERA that was perhaps a bit unlucky (3.55 FIP).
If you click on this link and look at Jeff's velocity, you see it's pretty much all over the damn place prior to 2012. But as a major league starter, you can see those curves start to smooth out. Shark really had it going on in the second half of that season: post All-Star Break in 2012, he had a 4:1 K:BB ratio, a 2.58 ERA, and in September pitched his first career complete game.
Jeff's ERA wasn't quite as good in 2013 (4.34), but for me he's basically been the same guy for going on three years now: an absolute horse, with fantastic stuff and outstanding makeup. He pumps the gas at 95, gets tons of swings and misses, and because of his athleticism seems as sure a bet as any to give you 200 innings each year.
Whenever guys get dealt away we childishly tell ourselves that he may come back on a free agent deal later on. I suppose that worked out with Kerry Wood, and I'd really really like for that to work out here. Shark doesn't owe anyone a hometown discount, but if he's a free agent in 2016 and these Cubs look ready to roll, you don't think he'd like to come back? Oh well we'll see either way I guess.
What a great pitcher. It has been an absolute joy watching him pitch for the Cubs these past few seasons. Godspeed good sir, go win a championship with those Oakland guys.
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