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Jeff Samardzija is Just Getting Started

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After an inconsistent career in the bullpen, Jeff Samardzija has put his career on track as the front man of the Cubs rotation and it does not appear that he is going anywhere. In fact, it looks like we are only beginning to see the abilities that Samardzija has and we are just seeing how good he can eventually be.

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Last year was a very positive step for Samardzija as a starter. I was a fan from the start, given his multiple pitch mix. I followed him very closely in spring training and drafted him in a few deep leagues as well. I was more than happy with the return he produced, despite pitching to a 4.03 ERA in his first 26 starts of the season. Before being shut down, Samardzija posted two stellar starts – a 7 inning one run outing and a complete game two run outing. He finished the year with 174.2 innings, a solid number for a reliever turned starter.

This year, he opened the season as the de-facto staff  ace as Matt Garza was on the mend. He already displayed top notch strikeout abilities in his first season as a starter, striking out 24.9% of batters (I like to use strikeout percentage more frequently than K/9). This year, he has bumped that number up to 27.6%. That is good for the ninth highest total in baseball, ahead of the likes of Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Clayton Kershaw. Now, Samardzija does not quite have the command that those pitchers have, but having that strikeout ability will provide tremendous amounts of fantasy value in and of itself. The fact that he has been able to up his strikeout rate up that much and keep his strikeout-to-walk ratio at the same rate as last year (3.27 in ’13 to 3.21 in ’12) is an important one. Yes he is walking more batters, but he is not doing so at a dangerous rate.

What is unfortunate about Samardzija, but what also potentially makes him more available via trade than he should be, is the win total he will net as a member of the Cubs. Last year, despite a solid year on the mound, he was 9-13. This year, he is just 2-6. Most leagues do not count losses as a category, so a no decision is essentially as equal to a loss in fantasy. ZiPS projection system, a great projection system which is tracked on FanGraphs, expects Samardzija to post eight more wins this season. That is a relatively underwhelming number considering how good of a pitcher Samardzija has been and how good we expect him to be. If I were looking for pitching, I would use the fact that Samardzija is not going to tally a ton of wins as a reason a team should be looking to move him. It is important to be careful with your language in these types of negotiations, but know who you are dealing with and gauge what the appropriate way to approach him with this idea would be.

What I love about Samardzija is the fact that people still have some doubt around how real he is as a starter. After 38 starts of a 3.66 ERA and the improvements he is consistently showing, I see little reason to doubt his abilities. He runs into some home run issues at times, and his home ballpark is certainly not very forgiving in that respect. However, he has been able to succeed thus far with the home run issues, and if he is able to continue to rack up the strikeouts at a high rate then there is no reason to be bearish on “the shark.”

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