Does Jeff Samardzija Have What it Takes to a Starter at the Major League Level?

Posted on 12 October 2009 by Lou

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Jeff Samardzija still thinks he has what it takes to be a starter in the Cubs rotation in 2010 – now he just needs to go out and show it.  After a rough 2009, he’ll have even a tougher time than he had in Spring Training this past year given the competition.  Samardzija appeared in 20 games for the Cubs during the course of the 2009 MLB schedule (including 2 starts).  He had a 1-3 record with a hefty 7.53 ERA (29 ER) and 1.76 WHIP in 34 2/3 innings pitched.  Teams batted .329 against Samardzija with 7 home runs and his strikeout to walk ratio was not great – 25 to 21.  Compare that to his 2008 numbers in his rookie year, and there is a stark contrast:

1-0 record; 2.28 ERA (7 ER) and 1.41 WHIP in 27 2/3 innings pitched; .226 opponents’ batting average with a 25-15 strikeout to walk ratio; 1 save with 3 blown saves.

So what went wrong in 2009?  Was it simply a sophomore jinx, does he not really have what it takes to pitch at this level, or at the age of 24, does he still need more minor league time to work on developing more pitches like a changeup or cutter that will keep batters more off-guard?  It’s unclear right now, but Samardzija will continue to work on throwing this offseason, playing winter ball in the Mexico league for Triple-A manager Bobby Dickerson.

Manager Lou Pinella had good things to say about the youngster: “The kid needs to pitch winter ball.  He’s on the right path… He just needs to work on the things he’s working on and get more consistent with it, and winter ball will give him that opportunity… Starting-wise, I think he’ll be able to throw all of his pitches and I think he can get better quicker.  When you pitch out of the bullpen, you’re only pitching an inning, two innings at a time, so you basically go after the hitter with one or two pitches.  Starting-wise, you have to develop all of your pitches and repertoire.”

The Cubs are pretty much locked into 4 starters in 2010 – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells.  The 5th starter role will likely come down to Tom Gorzellany, Samardzija, Sean Marshall and Angel Guzman.  Gorzellany made some nice starts in 2009 after coming over in a trade from the Pirates; Marshall won the 5th starter’s role in 2009, but Pinella moved him to the bullpen after Neal Cotts’ was hurt because the Cubs needed a lefty reliever out of the pen; and Guzman pitched well in the bullpen in 2009 and will likely serve a similar role in 2010.  So it will be interesting to see how it all pans out in Spring Training in 2010.  Samardzija can improve his chances with a good showing in winter ball in the Mexico League, so we’ll keep you posted how he is throwing later this month…

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