The Samardzija Verdict

I’m in a bit of a fog this morning after having stayed up late to watch the Jered Weaver no-hitter.  MLB Network host (and occasional groper) Harold Reynolds showed quite a bit of prescience when he commented on a 5th inning slicing ball off the bat of Chris Parmelee that went foul by less than a foot, “that’s when you know it might be your night.”

But this is a blog focused on the NL Central, and that’s where we’ll turn back now.

I entered the season with a huge dose of doubt about Jeff Samardzija’s future as a Chicago Cub.

In fact, I’ve pretty much assumed that by the time the team returns to respectability (2014, maybe), that the only player on their current roster that will still be with them is shortstop Starlin Castro.  And even that I’d consider a maybe.  For the record, I suspect he may have a future as a second baseman instead.  But that’s a topic for another day.

However, having watched a bit of Samardzija’s start last night, what I was most amazed by was how well he still commanded his stuff late in the game.

To close out the 7th, he struck out Scott Rolen on a 91 mph slider.  (He picked up all three strikes on sliders during the at bat.)

His last batter faced, on pitches 92-95, he threw four straight 96 mph four-seamers.

I’m not saying I’m completely convinced that he might be for real, but I have to tip my cap to a guy who is still dialing it up in the mid-to-upper 90s when he’s closing in on 100 pitches.  That’s the kind of stuff you see guys like Justin Verlander pull off.

I’m not saying Samardzija has a Cy Young in his future.  All I’m saying is that right now he’s throwing like a guy who can be a really solid #2.  Will he continue to develop and be the kind of arm that the Cubs should keep around for when they’re finally decent?  That’s the question.

There are a few things I’m concerned about with the 27-year old.  Of course there is!  I’m always concerned!

For one, the increased workload as a starting pitcher.  Thus far, Samardzija has faced 132 batters (31.2 innings pitched) and is on pace for 764 BF (183 IP).  Last season he had 380 BF (88 IP) and was usually hovering around the 600 BF (~140 IP) mark between 2007 and 2010.  It’s a bit of a jump up and it will be interesting to see how the Cubs handle him as their lost season continues.  Do you shut him down in August or September just for the sake of saving him up a bit?  Make sure you give him plenty of time between starts?  (This most recent start came on 8 days of rest, for example.)

Second, as evidenced by the pitch selection in that 7th inning showdown against Rolen, is his pitch selection.  Samardzija is throwing sliders on 21.4% of all pitches, according to PITCHf/x.  That number has been rising since 2009.

2009: 5.8%
2010: 13.7%
2011: 17.7%
2012: 21.4%

Sliders make me a little nervous.  I took a look at all pitchers who played “full” seasons (i.e. 162 IP or more) and who PITCHf/x identified as having thrown 20% sliders or greater during the 2010 season.  Fangraphs identified 17 such players.

Out of those 17, how many repeated being healthy enough in 2011 to throw 162 IP or more?

Okay, actually 10 of them.  And a couple of them didn’t achieve that mark only because, frankly, they’re not very good pitchers.

I’m going to retract this concern and temper my anti-slider theories.

For now…

PIRATES (10-14) @ CARDINALS (16-8)
12:45 PM CT

PIT Bedard 1-4 2.48  0.7 3.98
STL Westbrook 3-1 1.30 0.7 3.29

Why You Might Watch This: Jake Westbrook is one of those Cardinal arms that’s helped them get over Wainwright’s tough April.  Whatever changes he made have been working.

  • Carlos Beltran busted out of a little slump in a large way last night.  It was the kind of night expected from the guy whom many (myself included) felt was probably the best off-season free agent signing in the MLB.

CUBS (9-15) @ REDS (11-12)
11:35 AM CT

CHI Dempster 0-1 1.33 0.6 3.10
CIN Bailey 1-2 3.60 0.2 4.46

Why You Might Watch This: Ryan Dempster returns to the rotation after a quad injury pushed him to the DL.




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