Jeff Samardzija has been a victim of reputation his entire baseball career. It was reputation that garnered him a $10MM contract big league coming out of Notre Dame, a deal Baseball America compared to Mark Prior’s draft deal, who was considered the best college pitching prospect ever before some dude named Stephen Strasburg showed up. No doubt, Samardzija had talent coming out of Notre Dame, however his profile as a big-time college wide receiver may have blurred the Cubs’ vision when comparing him to John Smoltz.
Samardzija’s reputation the past two years hasn’t been that of a fledgling Hall of Famer, but rather big bonus bust. Perhaps unfairly given lofty expectations due to his draft outcome, Samardzija was rocketed through the Cubs’ farm system regardless of the fact that he had never posted a strike out per walk ratio over 2.50. He never had developed a solid grasp of control over his pitches due to his limited time in the minor leagues, and to pitching in general (considering he split his athletic priorities at Notre Dame).
Samardzija debuted with the Cubs in 2008, pitching to the tune of a 2.28 ERA, coupled with a solid 8.13 K/9. While he showed shaky control, the future looked bright for the Cubs and Jeff Samardzija.
Pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen, Samardzija struggled badly in the 2009 and 2010 campaigns, coming to a disastrous peak last season when he was statistically one of the league’s worst pitchers, registering an 8.38 ERA.
Out of options from being shuttled back and forth to the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate Iowa, Samardzija was given a bullpen slot in hope he could tap into some of his talent and provide the Cubs with another reliable relief option.
Giving up five earned runs and nine walks in Samardzija’s first six innings pitched had Cubs fans give up on the 26-year old not two weeks into the season. Since April 15th however, he hasn’t allowed a run, and is finding the zone 10% more. Is there any any causation to his success, or is it just a small sample anomaly?
It seems that Samardzija has used his slider more often lately, limiting to more of a two pitch mix as he uses his fastball/cutter combination against lefties and a fastball/slider combination against righties, contradicting his four-pitch approach he used previously.
The alternate pitch selection appears to be working. Samardzija has halved his walk rate from his first four games to 5.78 BB/9. While that is certainly way higher than one would hope, he negates it with a low batting average against and a sky-high 12.2 K/9.
Jeff Samardzija is pitching like he is Carlos Marmol right now. He’s not allowing any home runs or hits, and while he has a bloated walk total, his strikeout rate negates it. As we have seen the past two years, Carlos Marmol types are nice to have in the bullpen. Let’s see if Samardzija’s recent successes are here to stay.