2013 Pitching Profile: Jeff Samardzija
(Photo by Stephen Green)
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After playing college ball at Notre Dame, Jeff Samardzija (1-1) was selected by the Cubs in the 5th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. While struggling to maintain consistency on the mound, the 6-foot-5 pitcher bounced back and forth between the minors and the Cubs from 2008-10 before becoming a regular in the bullpen in 2011. There he proved to be a reliable arm, going 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 88 innings.
The Shark entered Spring Training last year with an outside shot at making the rotation, but pitched well and was named the team’s No. 3 starter. He had a career year, posting a 3.81 ERA and striking out 180 batters before getting shut down after a Sept. 8 start.
Determined to get better, Samardzija dedicated himself to improving his arm and his conditioning throughout the offseason. For his efforts, he was named the Cubs ace in 2013.
In his Opening Day performance, Samardzija showed strong commitment to controlling the plate. In eight shutout innings, he struck out nine and allowed only two hits. Though he surrendered four hits, four runs and four walks in 5.2 innings in his second start, Samardzija fanned a career-high 13 batters.
Samardzija is one of several pitchers profiled in Vine Line‘s 2013 Pitching Preview, available in the April issue, on sale now. We’ll be posting pitching profiles throughout the month, so be sure to check back to see what’s in store on the mound for 2013.
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): 4-seam (96), 2-seam (95), Cutter (92), Change (87), Slider (85), Curve (78)
2012 Stats: 174 IP, 24.9 K percent, 7.5 UBB percent, 3.81 ERA, 103 ERA+, 1.22 WHIP
Last Season: Proving he belongs
Perhaps nobody had higher expectations for Samardzija’s return to the rotation than the right-hander himself. Chief among his improvements last season was his control. He walked just 7.8 percent of the batters he faced, significantly lower than the 13 percent rate he had in 2011 out of the bullpen. His strikeout percentage increased from 23 percent to 25 percent, and his ground ball rate jumped from 43 percent to 47 percent. Samardzija leveraged his stuff better than before, even while doubling his innings prior to an early September shutdown.
Plan of Attack: Get batters cheating on a variety of fastballs
Both of Samardzija’s fastballs sit in the mid- to high-90s, and his two-seamer is made even more impressive by his ability to run a few extra inches of movement while matching the velocity of his four-seamer. Overall, he likes to move pitches away from batters—using more two-seamers and splitters that fade away from lefties, while employing the cutter and slider against righties.
Putaway Pitch: Splitter
The splitter is Samardzija’s No. 1 weapon, and his improved command of the fastball has made the split even more devastating. Samardzija rarely used his splitter on the first pitch, but employed it one-third of the time when ahead in the count. Comparing 2011 to 2012, his splitter was called for a ball less often (46 percent to 37 percent), got more swings (49 percent to 59 percent) and caused more whiffs when a batter did swing (43 percent to 46 percent). That last number has been part of a career improvement. In 2009 and 2010, Samardzija’s whiff-per-swing rates on the splitter were 24 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
*Numbers courtesy Brooks Baseball