Cubs Roster Profiles: Jeff Samardzija
As the 2012 season approaches, Cubbies Crib is profiling each and every member of the Cubs forty man roster. Today, we are talking about Jeff Samardzija.
The previous Cubs regime handed Samardzija a Major League contract to convince the former Notre Dame wide receiver to choose baseball over football in 2006. He had a nice debut season in 2008, flashing a 2.28 ERA with 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings over 26 games out of the bullpen to help do his part on a playoff bound team. Over the next two seasons, both he and the team worked to have those numbers translate as a starting pitcher. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the results were not pretty to look at. One of the culprits was the fact that Samardzija was being bounced back and forth from being a starter in the minors to a majority of his Major League innings coming out of the pen. His lack of command did not help matters either.
Last season Samardzija was used strictly out of the bullpen in his first full season of calling Wrigley Field home, and more times than not, he was able to show glimpses of the potential the last Cubs front office saw in his power arm. He still had his moments where he could not find the strike zone, but he also had chances to do his best Carlos Marmol impression and rack up strike outs to get himself out of his own jams. With a line of 87 strikeouts, a 1.295 WHIP, and only five home runs allowed over 88 innings of work, to go along with an 8-4 record and a 2.97 ERA, Samardzija served notice in 2011 that he is starting to figure out how to pitch at the Major League level.
The most recent news regarding Samardzija is that he has voiced his desire to be given a shot at the starting rotation again. With the new front office duo of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer prizing rotation depth to almost an exaggerated level (the list of candidates currently stands at twelve if you include Samardzija, non roster invitees Nate Robertson and Rodrigo Lopez, and prospect Trey McNutt), the former wide receiver probably will get just as fair a shot as anyone not named Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, and Paul Maholm
to make the rotation.
However, I strongly feel that Samardzija is a pitcher that is destined to be a dominant set up man or even a closer. When I see his career path so far, I think of the recently departed Sean Marshall. The left handed set up ace had also struggled as he bounced back and forth from the rotation to the pen to find his role. Once it became apparent that he was best suited out of the pen, his career really took off and he quickly became one of the top lefty relievers in the game. While Samardzija prefers a power fastball and nasty slider combination to Marshall’s crafty curveball, he is still best suited out of the pen.
If he is to find himself in the starting rotation come Opening Day, not only will he have to beat out over a half dozen candidates, but manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio would have to see a break out Spring from one of the younger arms in camp to help make complete the late inning relief corps that has already lost Marshall and rookie Chris Carpenter, in addition to the bullpen spot projected for Samardzija.
From the bullpen, it would be reasonable to project a drop from the 50 walks he issued last season. His strikeouts should remain in the 80 to 90 range despite a decrease from a career high 88 innings in 2011, as he would see less middle relief innings as a set up man. Samardzija tallied 64 holds last year and will expect similar results on top of a save or two sprinkled in for good measure.