Jeff “The Shark” Samardzija has become somewhat of a legend here in Chicago.
His unique style on and off the field makes him easy to recognize and probably results in him being at the butt end of a few bad jokes. He’s a very well spoken person who not only interviews well, but keeps himself and his team honest when talking to the media. No doubt that when you see or hear Jeff Samardzija, you can immediately recognize him.
And while his coiffed hair and personable interactions are indeed refreshing for a professional athlete, it was his performance on the bump that truly earned him notice.
Samardzija had an outstanding spring training with the Cubs and earned his spot in the starting rotation. He’s no rookie to the game of baseball having bounced around between AAA Iowa and the majors many times before in previous years. All it took was one solid spring campaign to impress the Cubs new brass.
Finding success in sports is nothing new for Samardzija. He was once offered a football scholarship with the University of Notre Dame where he found much success playing receiver (is that proper labeling of a football position? I have no freakin’ idea) which shows that his fitness and work ethic are usually never in question.
Cracking the majors may be his largest measure of success but his play once he arrived there is what turned heads. In his first start of 2012, he went 8.2 innings strong, only giving up 3R (1ER) on 4 hits and a 0.46 WHIP. He kept batters to a .138 AVG in what was a dominating performance over the Washington Nationals.
And while he’s enjoyed some success at the big league level, he’s beginning to see what being an MLB pitcher is all about.
Pitching at such a high level is all about adjustments. Can you change how you release a pitch to get a better movement? Can you put a little more mustard on it? Where do you want to pitch to a particular batter? Does he take cuts at sliders low and away or are you better off fishing him out with a high fastball?
Hitters will eventually figure out your mix and learn to hit your pitches as well. When Samardzija started out, he was fresh to a lot of teams and they either didn’t have a very complete scouting report on him, or did not have sufficient video footage to draw a set of parallels to his style of play. Its one of the small advantages of being a “new” pitcher.
It seems that Samardzija has hit that tipping point.
Hitters now can read him while the ball is leaving his hand. They also know his mix and they can now start making adjustments to him.
Its a fine balancing act, and Samardzija seems to be struggling his way across the wire as of late. In his last 10 starts, he’s only lasted at least 7 innings 3 times, giving up 58 H and 22 ER.
Even more disturbing is the fact that he’s been pulled 5 times before getting through 6 IP. His ERA has jumped from 2.89 to 4.42 in only 7 games.
The numbers tell a tale, but watching him is where the truth lies. Maybe its nerves, but he’s seemed to have lost his command of offspeed pitches. He’s no longer a “safe choice” to go out and produce quality starts. Once he hits roughly 80 pitches, his control is lost despite being able to still throw the ball almost 90 MpH.
This has the Cubs brass taking notice.
Samardzija’s solid play was one of the key factors in the potential trading of Matt Garza. The idea was that if Garza were traded, there would be a bit of a safety net in behind the team to pick up the slack and still have a solid RHP in the rotation. While Samardzija is not anywhere near Matt Garza in ability right now, he’s a player that could have been developed into a reliable top of the rotation type of player.
With Samardzija slipping, the Cubs may think twice before trading Garza.
Garza not only serves as an ace in an otherwise lackluster pitching staff, he’s also a mentor for the young players coming up. His experience in the AL and in Chicago are incredibly valuable to this team, especially during such a large scale rebuild. Most notably though is the fact that Garza (while still having his own struggles) can still be relied on to go out and earn a few wins for the team.
So the question remains… do you dare ship off one of your best pitchers when the next guy below may not have the tools to get it done?
While the question is a valid one, I think that Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein are smart enough to realize that this is occurring. They also probably realize that this season is not being measured by wins and losses, but being measured by the breakout performances and securing good prospect players in order to turn the future of this franchise around.
I’m also fairly certain that they’re comfortable with Jeff Samardzija being able to fill the void of a Matt Garza trade if not now, but sometime in the near future purely because he’s still so fresh and shows so much potential.
Lets look at the numbers: Samardzija only has 252.2 total innings pitched in the MLB, which just about 50-60 more innings than a solid healthy major league caliber pitcher can produce in a single season. He’s accumulated 83 of those IP this season alone. By that measure, he’s tallied up 35% of his total MLB pitching experience in 2012 which is a significant amount for a 25 year old guy who’s spent his entire baseball career within the Cubs system.
In other words, it means he still has a lot of learning to do.
This seems to be a reoccurring theme within the team this season, and part of finding success is letting those players realize their potential by going out, making mistakes and capitalizing on every opportunity that this team will give them. The Cubs brass know this better than anyone else and will continue to play their season in this fashion in order to allow the players to flourish under their supervision.
This is a total 180 degree turn from the Jim Hendry era of baseball in Chicago where a New York Yankee’s style of baseball was implemented and purchasing “super star” players was common (not that he had much success at it *cough Alfonso Soriano cough*) This is exactly the type of turn that this franchise needed.
So plain and simple? I wouldn’t expect “The Shark’s” performance to change the bigger plans of the Cubs’ front office. They’re simply too good at what they do to let something petty like a lower than usual performance of one player change their overall dealings.
Consider also that Samardzija is a true athlete who has found success on many levels in multiple sports. He knows deep down what it takes to overcome his boundaries, work hard and realize his full potential. His major league career is just starting, after all.
He knows what he’s capable of, and so do the Cubs.
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