A couple months ago, Jeff Samardzija had pushed the patience of the Chicago Cubs to the limit.
One of a small handful of players who’ve been given a Major League contract straight out of the draft, expectations were high for the converted Notre Dame wide receiver. After teasing the Cubs with a spectacular August and September in 2008, Samardzija fell flat in 2009 – he was given just two starts, and then moved to the bullpen, and then shuffled back to AAA Iowa.
In 2010, he was once again given a chance to win a starting spot, but he was terrible in Spring, and his stuff simply didn’t look good. Vocally frustrated with the decision to put him in the bullpen, Samardzija once again failed to perform. He put up an ERA just shy of 20 before being sent packing to Iowa.
Since then, he’s mostly been relieving, but we’ve heard almost nothing about him. That must mean he’s been throwing good enough not to get negative press, but not good enough to be considered for any of the numerous call-ups that have taken place in the bullpen since he was sent down. After all, the Cubs have been searching for a right-handed set-up man, powering through Esmailin Caridad, Justin Berg, Jeff Stevens, among others, before settling on Andrew Cashner. Samardzija’s name did not come up once.
So how is he doing at Iowa these days, anyway? Mediocre, as we would expect?
Actually, no. He’s been dominating.
He’s logged 34 innings in 19 appearances (all but two were out of the pen), with a razor-thin 1.59 ERA. His WHIP is also a shiny 1.088. But how about the peripherals? They’re not quite as good, but still strong. His 29 strikeouts in 34 innings is pretty much the best clip he’s been running at in his career. He’s giving up just 0.5 homers in 9 innings, which is also the best rate in his career. Still, he’s walking too many guys – 19 in those 34 innings. Beyond that, though, the numbers look great.
So why is he getting no love? I suspect that it’s mostly an issue with his stuff – the truth is, it looked like dog shit earlier this year. He had maybe one serviceable, Major League caliber pitch. The Cubs likely want him to continue to work on developing his secondary pitches, regardless of how “well” he’s pitching in the minors.
Of course, there also could be an attitude problem – Samardzija made no secret of his desire to start and desire to be on the big league club. Neither is the case right now. It could be that the Cubs are putting Samardzija in his place a little bit. That’s, of course, wild speculation on my part – but when comparing his comments upon not making the rotation and Sean Marshall’s comments (recall, Marshall had pitched better than anyone in Spring Training), it is perhaps reasonable wild speculation.
Samardzija’s future with the Cubs is uncertain. If he keeps pitching this well at Iowa, and doing the things he needs to do to develop as a pitcher, he’ll get another shot with the big club, possibly as soon as the next few months. Given the team’s investment, they’re unlikely to dump Samardzija any time soon, and would probably still like to see him develop into a starting pitcher.