Of the few pleasant surprises that happened to grace this Chicago Cubs team in 2012, Jeff Samardzija may have been the biggest one. Expectations were high for Starlin Castro, and there was already a great deal of buzz around Anthony Rizzo, but Samardzija was a large question mark heading into the season.
Shark had a very solid season in the bullpen in 2011. He posted the best numbers of his career and looked to be very effective in short spurts. He may have even had a future as a closer for this team, once Carlos Marmol finds his way out in the next winter or so. But he had his sights set on higher things.
Many laughed when Samardzija declared he wanted to be in the rotation this season. Some were more fearful, given the small sample space of results of the last time he did that. But the results were actually quite fantastic.
It wasn’t without its struggles, but the 2012 campaign was a very, very good one overall for Samardzija. Aside from his numbers, he proved he had the chops to be a front end starter in the bigs. Of course, the numbers did help to back up that fact.
Taking on the increased workload that came with making the jump from the ‘pen to the rotation, Shark posted a 3.81 ERA in just over 174 innings of work. He posted the best WHIP of his career, posting a fantastic 2.9 walk rate and striking out just over nine hitters per nine innings.
Samardzija has all of the tools to be a very successful pitcher. He has one of the more dominating fastballs in the league, with fantastic velocity even deep into games. His breaking stuff is coming along and has gotten to be very impressive, as long as he’s mixing it in effectively. When he’s not, that’s when he gets into trouble.
This Cubs staff is without an ace. Right now, the label has fallen on Matt Garza by default. Does Jeff Samardzija have what it takes to earn that label?
It’s hard to say. The potential is there. We know he has the ability to be a dominating pitcher with his arsenal. But to call him an ace right now, or to attempt to project him as an ace for this club down the road is difficult. He could do it, but the second or third slot seems more likely.
Regardless, it’s going to be fun to watch Samardzija continue to develop as a starter at the front of this rotation moving forward.