In his second full season as a member of the Chicago Cubs’ starting rotation, right-hander Jeff Samardzija saw both ups and downs. He posted 214 strikeouts, which was a career-high and the fourth-best mark in the league, but he also saw his earned run average jump by half a run, from 3.81 in 2012 to a 4.34 mark last season – a notable increase.
Many in the organization are expecting the 28 year-old right-hander to emerge as the ace on the Cubs’ staff, but he has pitched more like a #2 or #3 man in the rotation – especially during the 2013 campaign.
Take away the 200-plus strikeouts and his numbers are no more impressive than a middle-of-the-road starter. Take, for example, New York Mets‘ pitcher Dillon Gee. Gee started 32 games for New York this season, compiling a 12-11 record and a 3.62 earned run average and a 1.28 WHIP – all while making a measly $527,000.
Samardzija, who made $2.64 million this season, went 9-13 with a 4.34 ERA and 1.348 WHIP in 33 starts. His record (which can be partially attributed to the lack of run support he received), his earned run average and his WHIP were all worse than Gee – who made less than 1/5 of what the Cubs’ right-hander pulled in this year.
The former Notre Dame standout saw his K/BB ratio decline, as well, from 3.21 in 2012 to 2.74 last season, despite the increase in total strikeouts. Keep in mind that he made five more starts than in 2012, which largely accounts for the increased strikeout totals. Perhaps more importantly, Samardzija began relying on his offspeed pitches – his cutter and his slider – much more than his fastball, which has been his staple pitch since he broke onto the big league scene in 2008.
In 2013, Samardzija threw fastballs just 25 percent of the time – down from 36.8 percent in 2012. This can partially be explained by the fact that he continues to develop as a pitcher capable of throwing seven-plus innings, as opposed to a flamethrowing reliever. In 2008, 68.4 percent of his pitches were fastballs, so there is clear evidence that he is continuing to develop a solid offspeed arsenal.
The real question for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer moving forward is whether or not Jeff Samardzija has the makeup to be a big league ace. He is under team control for two more years and won’t be a free agent until 2016, when Samardzija looks to land a major contract from a team. Whether or not that club will be the Cubs remains to be seen. As for the Cubs’ behalf, Hoyer said earlier this season that re-signing Samardzija was something the organization was certainly interested in.
“It is something we would like to do it for sure. We love having him on the team. He brings the right competitiveness to the club. I think he will keep getting better. We want to acquire a lot more pitchers like him. It is hard to rank it on a priority list, but it is very high on things we would like to get done.”
If Samardzija continues to pitch like a middle-of-the-road starter, then he can expect compensation in that range. Granted, he’s still developing as a starting pitcher, but while many Cubs’ arms took a step forward in 2013, it appears that this right-hander took one step forward and two steps back.