The 2011 season was basically a “make or break” type of season for Jeff Samardzija. And he rose to the occasion.
For the first time in his career, Samardzija was kept in the same role and found a sense of stability, sticking with the Cubs all year. Despite a rash of pitching injuries, which led to the likes of Doug Davis and Ramon Ortiz finding starts in the rotation, Shark spent his entire season in the bullpen, and found great success.
His numbers for the season were very easily the best of his career. He gradually improved as the year went on, with his development finally showing, as he continued to develop multiple pitches and harness those pitches.
After a couple of years that he really couldn’t find his niche and stick in Chicago, Samardzija put up career numbers. His ERA was a strong 2.97, with 87 strikeouts and a 1.30 WHIP in 88 innings. Those were numbers that steadily improved as the season went on, as he had 16 walks in the second half of the season, compared to 34 in the first half, as an example.
Samardzija has been working this offseason to improve even more, and already has a shot to win at spot in the rotation in spring training. But with so many arms in the mix, it might be easier said than done.
Assuming that Matt Garza is around to start the season, as it looks like he will be, he and Ryan Dempster are locks for the rotation. Using the power of assumption, the other three in the rotation could very likely consist of Chris Volstad, Paul Maholm, and Travis Wood.
That’s a starting five, but Randy Wells and Andy Sonnanstine will also be in the mix for a rotation spot, as well as Samardzija, once spring training gets underway. So does Shark actually have a shot to stick in the rotation?
With this Cubs team, I’d say that nearly every spot is open. No guy has a spot locked down in this rebuilding process and that especially goes for the pitching staff. If Samardzija can continue to show that improvement he demonstrated for much of 2011, then I’d say there’s a very good shot he gets a long look in March.
If not, Samardzija will end up back in the bullpen, where he was so effective last year. He’ll likely be able to fill a number of roles for the Cubs in 2012 either way, whether it’s as a spot starter on occasion, in long relief, or even seeing time at the back end of that bullpen. If the Cubs do end up trading Carlos Marmol at some point, Samardzija is a candidate to replace him back there.
Quietly, Samardzija looks to be one of the more exciting aspects of the Cubs in 2012. As spring training nears, begins, and progresses, Samardzija will certainly be one to keep an eye on, as the Cubs attempt to decide where he will fit for the 2012 season.