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2014 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Chicago Cubs Pitcher Jeff Samardzija

Chicago Cubs Jeff Samardzija

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In a fantasy baseball draft it is absolutely critical to identify pitchers in the mid-rounds who can perform as a top five starter on your staff. Paying for pitching in the earlier rounds of the draft come with consequences as it means you are foregoing a chance to take an offensive player who will be in your lineup on a daily basis. Perhaps no pitcher is an as intriguing of a post 10th-round option as Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija.

In 2013, Samardzija went 8-13 which was not indicative of how he performed, but more of a testament to the Cubs’ putrid 66-96 team record. His ERA was a bit high at 4.34, but he pitched a durable 213.2 innings in which he struck out 214 batters, good for an exactly 9.0 strikeout per nine innings (K/9) ratio.

His WHIP was an acceptable 1.34 which was up from 2012 when it was a more desirable 1.21, mostly due to the fact that he walked more batters (78) than he did the season prior (56); a trend that will turn a majority of fantasy owners away from Chicago’s de facto ace.

Currently, Samardzija is ranked as the 37th overall starting pitcher and carries a 158.4 average draft position (ADP) across fantasy baseball host sites, according to the fantasypros.com charts; meaning he is being drafted right around the end of 15th to beginning of 16th round in most drafts.

While I am not thrilled with Samardzija’s ERA or WHIP totals from 2013, they were a bit inflated compared to his career averages. I anticipate Samardzija to improve for a myriad of reasons, all in which will increase his value to fantasy owners.

In December, he turned down an attempt from Cubs brass to lock him up long term, when they offered a five-year, $55 million contract extension. Samardzija clearly views himself as an ace and wants ace money, and to prove that he deserves such a contract he cannot and will not let the doom and gloom of being on a floundering Cubs roster affect his statistical performance any longer.

Secondly, due to the fact that he and the club are not on great terms monetarily, I expect he will be traded to a contender by the All-Star break, which will help him reach a plus .500 win percentage which is quite a chore with Chicago.

Plain and simple, Samardzija stays healthy, pitches at least 200 innings and strikes out 200 plus batters, which is hard to find considering only 12 MLB pitchers achieved it in 2013 and he was one of them at ninth overall. Every other pitcher on the list currently has an ADP of earlier than the 10th round other than A.J. Burnett, who signed later in the offseason with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Samardzija is a great pick especially in h2h 5×5 and roto leagues considering how late into the draft he will be available.

Timothy Downs is a fantasy sports writer for RantSports.com. You can add him on Google or follow on Twitter @Tidow1212.