Today, the Cubs played the Indians at HoHoKam and Jeff Samardzija was the starting pitcher for the home team. The Cubs couldn’t score until Jeff was out of the game, but I’m more interested in the way he pitched because he’s still a leading candidate for the starting rotation for whatever reason. Bad news for Randy Wells or Chris Volstad, but I assume the Cubs front office and Dale Sveum have a method to their madness. At least the Cubs won another practice game, thanks in part to Jeff’s pitching.
We know Samardzija hasn’t exactly been lights-out as a pitcher ever since he signed way over slot with the Cubs. The guy has control issues and his fastball, though fast, didn’t actually deceive anyone. That was then, though. According to what he said at the Cubs Convention, Samardzija was in Mesa shortly after Thanksgiving and has been working on improving his game since. At some point the Cubs decided not to non-tender him, but rather to give him a slight paycut (the maximum mandated by the players’ union) to keep him around and see what he had. It seems that the scouts and the big boys think he had figured something out, so in a season with low expectations, why the hell not? Other than the part where he’s pretty much always sucked, that is.
You will have to analyze the spring training performances with a caution as there just aren’t enough opportunities in that month to see what the guy can do, and he’s also likely facing minor leaguers and scrubs half the time. But so far, Samardzija has thrown 20 innings (including 6 today), hasn’t walked a lot of guys (the one today was the first all spring) and has generated a ton of ground balls. I don’t have the time or the patience to look back at the game logs, but I recall Jeff getting smacked around like a cheap whore back in the day, and so far this spring, except in his last start against Colorado, he’s looked okay.
Jeff got a leadoff triple today (but couldn’t score, how delightfully Cub) but we’re going to focus on what happened while he pitched. He did allow baserunners but they were never able to cross home plate. He didn’t exactly have run support, but he also didn’t have the pressure of knowing that this was a game that mattered in the standings. If anything the pressure was in showing that he belonged. The lineup he faced included guys like Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner, so he wasn’t exactly going to breeze through a Quad-A mashup.
In Jeff’s six innings today, we can make a tally based on the radio and the interactive play-by-play:
- One line drive (for a hit), probably the hardest hit ball on the day off Jeff
- 7 groundouts, 2 groundball hits snuck through
- 4 flyouts
- 2 popouts
- 5 strikeouts
- one walk (not sure what the count was)
So whatever he’s doing, adjusting from when he got shelled against the Rockies, he’s making them hit the ball on the ground (which increases the odds of generating outs) or weakly. He’s striking out almost one an inning. Small sample size, but if you are a scout, you appreciate those kinds of observations about the guy you hope won’t suck. That he was able to go six full suggests that he was relatively efficient because he didn’t reach his pitch count too early.
It’s still not official that Jeff Samardzija will go into the rotation, but consider me ambivalent at this point; I don’t care whether he’s in the rotation or the bullpen. However, I am kind of curious to see how he does as a starter with an extended look. If he can pitch like he’s shown in the spring (and the majority of the data we have on him suggests that’s unlikely) then it’s a good risk to take. If not, it’s the difference between this team winning 68 games and 72 or so because Jeff sucked like we thought he would based on that data. But it could pay off. It’s not like he’s Barry Zito with a massive contract. Give the guy a chance. Again, odds are that he’ll suck, but in the event that he doesn’t, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.