Results tagged ‘ Jeff Samardzija ’

Hot Off the Presses: November Vine Line featuring GM Jed Hoyer


How do you evaluate a 96-loss season? It depends on how you look at it.

Are you evaluating just the major league team or the organization as a whole? Your answers would likely be very different.

On the surface, things don’t look too good. For the second straight year, the Cubs languished in the basement of a stacked NL Central that sent three teams to the 2013 postseason. The offense consistently struggled to put runs on the board, the bullpen faltered early in the season, several key players failed to develop as expected, and manager Dale Sveum was released after two seasons at the helm. To hear General Manager Jed Hoyer tell it, that’s simply not going to cut it.

“One of the things about this job is that your report card is in the paper every morning,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, that report card tells us we’re not good enough. We’re not talented enough at the major league level, and we have to improve that.”

Despite the struggles in Chicago—and both President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Hoyer are quick to admit they’re disappointed by the win-loss total—the front office has never wavered from its initial blueprint for building a consistent winner.

When Epstein and Hoyer took over in October 2011, there was a severe talent deficit in the minor league system, and the major league team was saddled with expensive, aging players. The goal was to stockpile as much young talent as possible as quickly as possible and create payroll flexibility to ensure that the next time the team is competitive, it has a chance to remain competitive for years to come.

On that front, things don’t look bad at all. In 2009, Baseball America ranked the Cubs 27th in its annual organizational talent rankings. By the start of 2013, they had moved up to 12th. Thanks to shrewd trades, some aggressive international signings and a strong 2013 draft, headlined by overall No. 2 pick Kris Bryant, most experts agree the Cubs system is firmly in the top five heading into 2014. And 11 of the organization’s top 20 prospects, according to, were acquired since the new front office took over in 2011. That’s a lot of progress in a few short years.

This month, we sat down with the Cubs’ GM for a frank conversation about the state of the organization. There is great reason for optimism, but the wave of young standouts developing in the farm system has yet to crest at Wrigley Field. Until that top-notch talent arrives, it’s imperative the Cubs find a way to improve their bullpen and generate more quality at-bats.

“The amount of talent and the athleticism we have [in the system] is a long, long way from where it was when we first got here, and we’re excited about that,” Hoyer said. “But all those things don’t hide the fact that the goal is to get better at the major league level, and we need to improve on what we’ve done in 2012 and 2013.”

We also talked to one of the key pieces Hoyer acquired last offseason that fits this new organizational philosophy—outfielder Nate Schierholtz. The 29-year-old veteran finally got a chance to play regularly in 2013, and he had a breakout season, with career highs in plate appearances, home runs and RBI. Everybody, from the front office to his teammates, says the same thing about Schierholtz: He’s a professional ballplayer who fights for every at-bat and brings his best effort every day.

Finally, despite the win-loss total, there were plenty of positive developments at the major league level. The Cubs strengthened their pitching depth behind the emergence of lefty Travis Wood, ace Jeff Samardzija continued to miss bats with the best of them, Junior Lake made a surprisingly successful major league debut, and the left side of the infield was as strong defensively as any in baseball. We examine several impressive stats from the 2013 campaign that should bode well for the organization’s near future.

If you want to get to know the future of the organization now, follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline. All winter long, we’ll be following the Cubs’ top prospects in the fall and winter leagues. And pick up the November issue of Vine Line today.

1000 Words: Shark wins NL Co-Player of the Week honors


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija was named the NL Co-Player of the Week, along with Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez, for his two dominating starts against Washington and San Diego. The Shark posted an impressive 1.59 ERA, allowing three earned runs over 17.0 innings pitched, and picked up 12 strikeouts versus only two walks.

On Monday, Samardzija tossed his second complete game of the season, pitching 9.0 innings of one-run ball in an 11-1 drubbing of the Nationals at Wrigley Field. On Saturday, the 28-year-old held the Padres to two earned runs over 8.0 innings in a 3-2 victory at PETCO Park.

The last Cub to win the award was Ryan Dempster, who shared the honor with the Diamondbacks Jason Kubel for the week of June 4-10, 2012.

Cubby Blue: Name that Cubs facial hair


1000 Words: The Shark captures a shutout


(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Jeff Samardzija brought his “A” game to the South Side in a 7-0 win against the White Sox Monday night. In the series opener, the Cubs’ ace pitched a two-hitter, earning the 28-year-old his first career shutout. He threw 108 pitches, allowing only two hits—both singles—while fanning eight and walking two.

Though last night’s victory is only the third win for the second-year starter, Samardzija has pitched well all season, owning a 2.85 ERA through 11 starts. The Shark’s Memorial Day win makes him the first Cubs pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout game in almost two years; the last North Sider to do so was Randy Wells on August 29, 2011. The Cubs play three more games against their intracity rivals before either team can claim bragging rights for capturing the Crosstown Classic.

Now Playing: Bricks and Ivy Ball video

Last month, the Cubs and Chicago Cubs Charities held their annual Bricks and Ivy Ball at Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom. Now in its third year, the event has become one of the key fundraisers for Chicago Cubs Charities. It helps support numerous organizations and programs targeting youth sports access and improvements in health, fitness and education for those at risk.

More than 840 guests helped raise $1.2 million at the Ball to benefit Chicago Cubs Charities, thanks to the generosity of Cubs owners, managers, players, front office associates and fans. As the program began, Chairman Tom Ricketts addressed the Cubs’ commitment to supporting Chicago’s children through community outreach and charitable programming.

“Our goal is to make life better for the youth and families of Chicago by doing our part to improve health, fitness and educational opportunities for those at risk,” Ricketts said. “Whether it’s a hospital visit, holiday toy drive, serving lunch at a USO or Thanksgiving dinner to homeless teens, our team is there donating their time and resources.”

During the evening, Chicago Cubs Charities introduced a video featuring some All-Star youth who have benefited from grants, including Cubs Care grants, a McCormick Foundation Fund. The video also featured Cubs players Darwin Barney, David DeJesus, Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the Bricks and Ivy Ball, you can check out the video here. Special thanks to the charities, Cubs players and Len Kasper for helping make this possible.

Hof Off the Presses: May issue featuring the Cubs core


Please don’t judge me, but …

I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan. Look, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I moved a lot when I was younger and lived in Atlanta in the early ’80s. With each subsequent move, I was able to follow the Braves because of TBS.

Here’s what I remember about the Braves from my younger days—1981 was a miserable, strike-shortened year; 1982 was a blast until the postseason (a phenomenon I didn’t realize would repeat itself throughout my adulthood); 1983 was solid; and then depression set in.

The Braves were 80-82 in 1984, and that was by far the best it would get until the franchise began its unprecedented run of regular-season success in 1991. The late ’ 80s saw a wretched slide that reached its nadir in 1988, when the team went 54-106.


So why am I recounting this sad chapter from my childhood? I see a lot of similarities between what the Braves were doing in the late ’80s/early ’90s and what the Cubs are doing now.

In 1990, the Braves went 65-97, good for last place in the NL West, 26 games behind the Reds. In 1991, they shocked the baseball world by winning 94 games and getting all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Since then, they’ve been one of the most stable and consistently excellent teams in pro sports.

But the Braves’ worst-to-first run didn’t come out of the blue. In fact, the team probably wasn’t as bad as its record in 1990. If you look back at the roster, it included names like Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Stanton, Ron Gant and David Justice. All those players had some important things in common—they were young, untested, and between the ages of 20 and 25.

When we talked to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein for our January issue, something he said resonated with me.

“There are two ways to really improve your team in a hurry from one year to the next,” Epstein said. “One is sign impact players or bring in impact players from outside the organization. The other is to have a wave of young talent that’s approaching their prime years at the same time.”

The Cubs might not shock the world this year, but they’re building that wave of talent—players who can grow together, win together, lose together, and ultimately figure things out together as they move into their prime years.

One of these waves is at the major league level now in Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson. Epstein calls these players the “Cubs core.” And the organization is developing another strong group in the low minor leagues with high-ceiling players like Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Pierce Johnson and Dillon Maples.

In the May issue of Vine Line, we talk to the Cubs core about what it means to them to play in Chicago and how they plan to turn potential into major league success. One thing is clear—no matter what the record said at the end of 2012 or what it says right now—these guys do not buy into the presumption that the Cubs are years away from winning.

We also check in on the new minor league affiliate that is helping develop the next wave of top talent. After eight years with the Peoria Chiefs, the Cubs switched their Midwest League affiliate to Kane County, located about 40 miles from Wrigley Field’s doorstep. There are huge benefits to having a farm team nearby, and the Cougars and Cubs both hope to take advantage of that in 2013 and beyond.

Finally, we look at the other side of the Cubs equation—the fan base. This season, the team has developed an advertising and marketing campaign based on the fierce dedication and undying passion of the best fans in the game. We talk to the stars of the new ads and the Cubs front office to find out how it all came together.

To read these stories and more, pick up the May issue of Vine Line, on sale now at select Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today. And you can follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Here’s to a brighter future.

—Gary Cohen

Starting rotation a bright spot for Cubs


Carlos Villanueva has been solid in the Cubs rotation. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Offensive woes and fielding mishaps have hijacked the headlines for the Cubs as the baseball season reaches the one-month mark. It’s hard to ignore the fact that the team has scored just 61 runs, 13th in the National League. And considering how much time has been spent reinforcing the basics in the last few years, it’s even more surprising that the defense has committed 17 errors in 18 games, second most in the NL. Those stats will need to improve if the team hopes to do better than the 59 wins they managed last season.

But there is some cause for optimism in Chicago thanks to a surprisingly dominant starting rotation.

The starting five as whole has a 3.11 ERA, .208 opponent batting average, 1.15 WHIP and 98 strikeouts over 110 innings. Those numbers are good for third, first, tied for first and fourth respectively.

The front five has thrown a total of 110 innings, sixth most in the NL. Because of the struggles in the bullpen (4.86 ERA, 12th in the NL), manager Dale Sveum has had his starters throw 68.8 percent of all pitches this season, the fourth highest percentage in the NL. Also, Cubs arms have managed to keep the ball on the ground 52.2 percent of the time, while allowing a home run on just 10 percent of all fly balls, good for second and fifth, respectively.

When you look at how the starters have fared individually, these stats should come as no surprise. Newcomer Carlos Villanueva carries a 1.03 ERA—top 10 for starters in the NL—into Tuesday night’s start. Despite throwing a fastball that clocks in at just 87 mph, the veteran has managed to fan 15 batters over 21 innings, walking just four.

Southpaw Travis Wood has a 2.08 ERA in 26 innings. The 26-year-old has gone at least six innings in all four appearances this year, including solid outings against the offensive-minded Brewers, Rangers and Reds.

After a solid 2012, staff ace Jeff Samardzija is trying to establish himself as one of the game’s elite this season. Though his 3.38 ERA could be lower at this point in the year, his 31 strikeouts over 26.2 innings are good for third in the NL. That puts him in the same company as perennial All-Stars Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Add in prized free agent Edwin Jackson and his 24 Ks over 22.1 innings, and it looks like the staff is in good shape.

And let’s not forget that the rotation isn’t even at full strength. Former ace Matt Garza is scheduled to return from a strained lat in early May, and free agent acquisition Scott Baker could be ready to go shortly after the All-Star break. If the offense warms up and the Cubs can find someone to get the last three outs, they have a good chance to improve on last season’s win total.

Series 4 Preview: Saturday’s Giants vs. Cubs matchup

at Dodger Stadium on April 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

Giants starter Madison Bumgarner will throw Saturday at Wrigley Field. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Got your Vine Line Game Day Edition scorecards ready? We’ve got a dandy pitching matchup at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon. Here’s a quick guide to today’s two starters:

Repertoire (Avg. MPH)*: 4-seam (92), Slider (88), Change-up (86), Curve (85)
Age: 23
2012 Stats: 208 IP, 22.5 K%, 5.1 UBB%, 3.37 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

bumgarner_pitchmix2012Bumgarner’s repertoire is simple on its face—fastball, slider, curve and change—but it’s how he’s able to locate modify his pitches that makes him such a great left-hander. He adds and subtracts from his fastball and adds in some natural cutting action. The result is a continuum of velocities and movement, even though the vast majority of his pitches will fall in a slim high-80s to low-90s range.

Righties will have to deal with being pounded inside with cutters and sliders, and protecting against curves and change-ups that will drop on the low-outside corner from different directions. Bumgarner delivers from a low three-quarters angle that makes both locations tough to deal with. Against lefties, he throws his fastball over half of the time, attacking the outside corner as well as using it up and over the plate. His slider will sweep hard away from a lefty, and his slow, mid-70s curve gets batters way out in front. Watch out for some backwards pitching: While hitters are likely to see a first-pitch fastball, they’ll deal with more sliders when Bumgarner falls behind in the count and more fastballs when he’s ahead.

Bumgarner’s signature is his command, and it’s no doubt the product of clean, repeatable mechanics. He turns toward second base at max leg kick before unwinding his hips and arms, keeping his head perfectly still and getting great extension toward the plate. It gives him “effective” velocity more than pure velocity and is a big reason he’s had an above-average strikeout rate in his two full seasons in the big leagues.

Repertoire (Avg. MPH)*: 4-seam (96), Sinker (95), Cutter (92), Splitter (86), Slider (85)
Age: 28
2012 Stats: 174 IP, 24.9 K%, 7.5 UBB%, 3.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

samardzija_pitchmix2012One thing’s clear through two starts: Samardzija is determined to surpass his breakout 2012 campaign. His 22 strikeouts through 13.2 innings gives him a 41 percent strikeout rate, and he’s kept opponents to a .125 batting average. Is it possible for Samardzija to be a breakout candidate again? Some certainly believe so.

There’s been at least one specific improvement in the very early going: his use of a back-door slider against lefties. That’s a pitch that starts off the plate before sweeping over the outside corner. In fact, southpaws have struck out four times on the slider versus six on the splitter, whereas the ratio was one to five last season. He’s also used it nearly a quarter of the time against right-handed hitters with two strikes. It’s possible that he just has better “feel” of that pitch so far, but we’ll be watching the development of that pitch to see if it helps Shark unlock another gear this season.

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. And Samardzija’s splitter is his No. 1 weapon when he gets ahead in the count. He’s gotten more whiffs on the pitch each year in the big leagues, up to a 46 percent swing-and-miss rate last season.

*PITCHf/x numbers from Brooks Baseball.

—Sean Ahmed

2013 Pitching Profile: Jeff Samardzija


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Other Pitching Profiles:

• RHP Edwin Jackson

• LHP Travis Wood

• RHP Scott Feldman

• RHP Carlos Villanueva

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)
Age: 28
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

—Sean Ahmed

Hot Off the Presses: Vine Line’s Opening Day Issue


You can never have too much pitching.

If you need further proof of that old baseball axiom, let’s look at the 2012 Cubs. They started the season with a fairly solid rotation behind a pitching-out-of-his-gourd Ryan Dempster, reliever-turned-starter Jeff Samardzija, a rejuvenated Paul Maholm and young veteran fireballer Matt Garza. At the back end, there were two options: newly acquired lefty Travis Wood and underachieving former top draft pick Chris Volstad.

Things looked pretty good on paper. But, as we all know, that didn’t last long.

The offense didn’t score. Injuries took their toll. The trade deadline came and went. And, well, the rest is lamentable Cubs history.

It turned out the team didn’t have much major league-ready talent behind those guys—in the starting rotation or in the bullpen—and baseball president Theo Epstein’s preseason prediction, “The numbers show you’re going to need your ninth starter through the course of the year,” came true.

As a result, the front office was laser focused on one thing throughout the hot stove season: acquiring more serviceable big league pitching to ensure there isn’t a repeat performance of last season.

“I think that probably the biggest weakness when we got here was depth in pitching, especially at the upper levels,” General Manager Jed Hoyer said. “Ideally, you want to home-grow all of your pitching. We don’t have that luxury right now, so we actively sought out a lot of starting pitching. We brought in four guys we see as starters: [Edwin] Jackson, [Scott] Feldman, [Scott] Baker and [Carlos] Villanueva.”

The Cubs might not have a traditional “ace” coming into the season, but they have three guys with the ability to fill that role in Samardzija, Garza and Jackson. If strike-throwing machine Baker can fully recover from last April’s Tommy John surgery, he should be a useful veteran addition to the staff. Feldman and Villanueva have both proven they can start and relieve in the big leagues, giving manager Dale Sveum plenty of flexibility. And Travis Wood, the only lefty in the starting mix, has tremendous athleticism and mixes in six different pitches.

The team also solidified the bullpen by re-signing veteran Shawn Camp and bringing in Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa. Even Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon, who is required to stay on the 25-man major league roster all season or be offered back to the Indians, looked impressive in his spring appearances.

The April issue of Vine Line takes a look at the Cubs pitching staff from top to bottom to give you an idea of what each pitcher throws, how they attack hitters and what to expect this season.

We also sat down with Hoyer to get a sense of where the organization stands as he enters his second season in the driver’s seat. The team certainly still has work to do, but there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the future.

“We’re trying to build something that every year [fans] know is a playoff-quality team,” Hoyer said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, and we’ve been really honest about that. But I do think fans deserve to start seeing the fruits of our labor, and I think you’re going to start to see that coming together now.”

Still, winning organizations are not built solely by shrewd front office maneuvers. They require buy-in from coaches, players and personnel at every level. While we were in Mesa, Ariz., with the team this spring, we got a firsthand look at how the Cubs’ message is being passed along from veteran players, like David DeJesus and Alfonso Soriano, to the younger generation, like Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson. It’s a time-honored baseball tradition—each spring, older players take the young studs under their wings to teach them the ins and outs of the major league game.

To read these stories and more, pick up the April issue of Vine Line, on sale now at select Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today. And you can follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Baseball is back. Let’s see where this ride takes us.