Fantasy Sports

2013 Fantasy Baseball Breakout Candidate: Chicago Cubs SP Jeff Samardzija

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija moved to the starting rotation in 2012 after spending all of 2011, his first full season in the big leagues, in the bullpen (75 appearances, 2.97 ERA). The change agreed with him, as he went 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA and good peripherals (9.3 K/9 rate; 2.9 BB/9 rate) over 28 starts (174.2 innings). He was particularly good late in the season, with a 2.58 ERA and a 4.3 K/BB ratio over his final 13 starts (87.1 innings) .

The Cubs were careful to monitor their young ace’s workload, shutting Samardzija down for the season in early September. With an inning total that was his high in a professional season and the team not in contention, the move made perfect sense even if it frustrated fantasy baseball owners that had reaped the benefits of his performance.

Samardzija is certainly not being drafted among the top tier of starting pitchers at this point, but can he take another step forward and become a fantasy ace in 2013?

Takeaways And Trends

- Samardzija’s increase in strikeout rate (4.2 K/9 with the Cubs in 2010; 8.9 in 2011; 9.3 last season) has been coupled with increased velocity (95 MPH average fastball velocity in 2012)  and fewer walks (5.1 BB/9 in 2011; 2.9 BB/9 in 2012).

- Samardzija’s ground ball rate improved from 41 percent in 2011 to 45 percent last season, which is not quite at an elite level but coupled with his strikeout proficiency is another positive sign.

- Samardzija’s BABIP (.299) and strand rate (72 percent) last season were decidedly average, which are not necessarily red flags but also hint at some potential fluctuation in his surface numbers if either goes up or down in a significant way.

- Despite being shut down for the final month of 2012, Samardzija’s 174.2 innings was a significant uptick in workload compared to 2011 (88 innings pitched). That is not surprising considering he was in the starting rotation all of last season as opposed to pitching out of the bullpen, but it’s still something fantasy owners should keep in mind.

Here is my projection for Samardzija in 2013.

Wins- 12
ERA- 3.60
Innings Pitched-198
K/9 Rate- 9.5
BB/9 Rate- 2.8

Samardzija’s win total is likely to be fairly dismal unless the Cubs show marked improvement this season, and for that reason alone he may not stand out to some fantasy owners. But a deeper look shows a pitcher that is honing his craft, and with some pure talent to back that up he has very good upside potential compared to other pitchers in the same area in preseason rankings. 2012 is a good baseline for what to expect from Samardzija in 2013, but more innings pitched and likely reaching 30 starts for the first time should create some solid overall improvement for the former Notre Dame wide receiver.

Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.