Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Samardzija’

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“…I do think it’s fair to say we have to spend some time rebuilding the pitching staff. I look at what happened last year from the outside with them losing two starters the first week of the season. It’s very difficult for any team to survive that, but the Cubs didn’t have the depth to do that. Even though we have confidence in some of the starters, we have a need to add more …. Injuries can never be an excuse for a bad season. You have to make sure that you have depth to avoid the inevitable and survive.”

-Jed Hoyer

Heading into the season I doubt many people would be surprised if the Chicago Cubs ended up trading Matt Garza for prospects at the deadline. The overwhelming feeling at the outset was that the Cubs were too far away to build a competing team while Garza was still effective. Garza is 28 which puts his window of being a good major league pitcher at 5 years, give or take. It’s fair to say that the Cubs felt they would be in competition outside of that window.

What is the reality, and what comes as a bit of a surprise, is that the Cubs are looking to extend Garza this year as it would appear they intend on keeping him. As the story indicates, Garza’s people wouldn’t be shocked if a trade happened, but the feeling is that he stays with the Cubs for quite a while.

The question this leaves me with is; Do the Cubs think they are closer than everyone else thinks they are? Do they believe they can build a contender within five years? Or is this just a ploy to drive up his trade value and the Cubs still feel that they are too far away to keep Garza. I can see both sides of it. Garza is eligible for free agency in 2013, it would be prudent of the Cubs to drive up his value for prospects by threatening to tie him up long term. However, the feeling I’m left with when I consider what it all means is that the Cubs think they aren’t too far away from competing.

Shark

I’ve been impressed with Samardzija since the spring. Since I wrote that article Shark had the expected uptick in BB/9, but he’s increased his K/9 rate and kept the other gains he made over the past few seasons.

What you’ll see there is a continued ability to suppress hits. Some of this may or may not be attributed to the defensive shifting the Cubs are employing, that’s another article for another time. Shark, it would seem, has turned himself into a solid #2-3 starter, depending on your definition of those labels. He’s done a remarkable job of keeping the ball on the ground and suppressing fly-balls. Some of these gains are unsustainable, but still bear watching over the long term:

The main knock on Samardzija have been his ability to miss bats, which looks like it was fixed last year, and his ability to command his pitches, which looks like it’s in the process of being adjusted this year. Remember when it was a surprise that Shark made the rotation this year? I don’t think that TheoCo was anticipating Samardzija’s progress this year.

Bryan LaHair

This is a major surprise. Bradley Woodrum over at Fangraphs (great site, go check them  out) posited that LaHair’s success might be sustainable. What’s important to keep in mind with LaHair is that while his BABIP has been crazy this year, it’s not insane to say that he can be an above average 1B or corner OF. If that seems like a massive step down from his current production, that’s because it is.

However, what it should be looked at is a massive step up for any projected production from a career minor leaguer who failed spectacularly in his previous auditions. He managed to keep improving past the age when such improvement is expected. He’s an anomaly and he’ll have a fairly long career crushing balls, but he’s not a 1.000+ OPS guy. I can see LaHair being the 25-30 HR guy with a decent average. He’s still striking out a lot, but his walk rate has also increased. It looks like LaHair got legitimately better, and when the Cubs can get rid of Soriano, they have the next LF on their squad. Rizzo will move LaHair off first. Speaking of which.

The Kids

Seriously, that’s stupid good. The BB-SO ratio is a little concerning, but the man is destroying AAA pitching. When he comes up there will be a lot of expectations placed on him. His swing looks different by all accounts, it’s shorter and more capable of handling MLB pitching, but there’s really only one way to test that out.

The rest of the known kids, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Javy Baez, etc etc, are a mixed bag. We know that the Cubs lack any type of pitching at the minor league level, which is why the Cubs were entertaining the possibility of trading Garza in the first place. Josh Vitters started hot, but has cooled considerably. Brett Jackson’s defense is ready, but his bat is dragging a bit. Junior Lake is killing it, but his upside is limited and he’s still pretty far away. McNutt is having a good rebound year, but he’s the only pitcher of note in the minors that is doing anything.

Synopsis

The biggest factor in what the Cubs do with Garza will be the farm system. This year’s draft is important for the Cubs as they try to infuse a thin minor league system with some talent. There are some good pieces on the major league squad, the starting pitching has been a good surprise, but the Cubs biggest need is offense. I know the bullpen has been awful, but ‘pens are a funny thing to put together. You don’t build a good bullpen as much as you just fall into one. What’s more common is what the White Sox did in 2005, find live arms to stick in the pen and hope for the best. In that case, the best happened, despite running through 3 closers. The Cubs need a real CF, a better 2B, a 3B who can hit, and a younger catcher.

The fact that they are considering pulling Garza off the table suggests that they think they can acquire the pieces via other options. They can trade Dempster for a decent haul, and they will be looking at Latin America for a boost in player production. I think certain surprises this year have the Cubs front office moving up their timetables a bit, and that’s a good thing. The current squad is competitive, but not good enough to be a serious player. With shrewd management and smart maneuvering, they can be the real deal quicker than we all expected.

 

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

I love the very beginning of baseball season for a multitude of reasons. Small sample sizes make for fun numbers, like guys with OBP’s lower than their AVG’s, players with more home runs than entire teams, guys who haven’t walked or struck out all year, the dudes that are on pace for 300 RBI’s, it’s great for nonsensical stuff like that. It’s also fun for identifying who actually watches baseball vs. who is a football fan and is just killing time complaining about things that don’t matter. To be clear for all you football fans, the MLB season is a 6  month (7 if your team is good) long odyssey that begins as nature wakes up from it’s slumber, thrives as the world around it gets greener and warmer, and finishes when the outside world dies. It’s cyclical, natural, and takes a long fucking time to complete. They play 162 games in a season. Some teams are gunning to win this year, some teams are caught in the middle of rebuilding and competing, and others are instituting a plan that revolves around youth and smart spending.

I’m talking to my fellow Cub fans. Yes, yes, Theo was hired this year, but as some ignorant White Sox fans are quick to remind me, he doesn’t play a position (BTW, White Sox fans, I’m aware of this. He doesn’t swing a bat nor throw a ball for the Chicago Cubs. I don’t need to be reminded of this). The team this year is awful. They told you they were going to be awful all off-season. They made no major moves, they acquired no impact talent, they did not change anything from last years squad that was also awful, really. So why are you so surprised about their struggles? Is it hard to watch? Yeah, nobody likes blown leads or bad fielding or an anemic offense.

“DEN WHAT DA FUCK AM I GONNA WATCH FOR TREE FUCKING MONTS UNTIL DA FOOTBALL COMES BACK AND DA MIDWAY MONSTERS OF HALAS HALL COME CRASHING BACK WIT DA VENGEANCE OF A TOUSAND MINI DITKAS?!?!?!?!?!”

I have no idea. I can’t help you.

“Good sir, if I may inquire, what shall I remain vigilant for this season on the North Side?”

Soccer, go back to Europe. Try again.

“Dude, they suck, is there anything that I can look for as a reasonable Cubs fan with realistic expectations for this year and the next three years?”

On the Major League roster there are a few players you should be watching for a myriad of reasons. I’ll be doing my best to update you guys on them as the season drags on, but for now, here’s my list.

  1. Starlin Castro – Nobody makes me say “That’s a great play,” and “That’s a dumbass play,” in the same game quite like Starlin.
  2. Marlon Byrd – If he manages to get his average up he will be a valuable piece to a team that’s in contention. Players with solid contact skills and good defense don’t fall out of trees these days. Could bring back an ok haul of prospects if a team decides to buy high at the deadline.
  3. Matt Garza – The goal is to either extend him because of the thin crop of FA starters in the coming years, or to bring back a better haul than you gave up to acquire him. I still think he ends up a Tiger.
  4. Darwin Barney – It’s debatable, but I think he might be on the Cubs the next time they are ready to compete. TheoCo (thanks Short-E) values defense a lot, and I think his bat might stick as a 2-hitter.
  5. Bryan LaHair – If his bat is legit, he can play in left and then you can have a 3-4 of Rizzo and LaHair. That’s awesome to think about.

Which brings us to who I think is the most intriguing Cub, Jeff Samardzija. The Cubs did the right thing and stuck Shark (Jeff’s rather unfortunate nickname) in the rotation. He had some interesting gains last year as a reliever, but if he was going to be worth anything to the organization, it was going to be in the rotation. As I stated before, I love small sample sizes, they’re fun, and when we talk about Shark’s numbers it’s in the tiniest of sample sizes, but dating back to last year he’s gained something valuable; the ability to miss bats.

See, dating back to his minor league days, Shark was always a bit of a mystery. He had good-great stuff, and a 98 MPH heater, but he never consistently posted legit prospect K/9 numbers.

His fastball was described as fast and straight, which is an issue. Major League hitters will time up fast if it’s straight, just ask Armando Benitez. Since 2011 however, his K rate jumped to 8+ and it looks like it’ll stay there. Begs the question, what’s different?

Well, this year he’s walking less people. His BB/9 rate is dramatically slashed so far this year, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The difference is that his stuff is just, better. Let’s look at his PitchF/X data for a second.

PitchFx tracks the movement and speed of pitches thrown. In this case it’s illustrating Shark’s improved movement on all of his pitches. SL=Slider, CH=Changeup, and FT=Two Seamer, something that is a relatively new classification and can be misleading. Before ’11, Shark’s slider wasn’t moving across the plate much, it was simply spinning and dropping with gravity. In 2011 however, that pitch improved, and it’s clear when you watch him. I don’t know for a fact if he improved his grip on the slider or if he just has a better feel for it, but it’s a real pitch now. It’s become a wipeout pitch. The Changeup has also greatly improved, even if he limited his use of it in 2011. This year it has legitimate drop  to it and it looks like it comes out of the same slot, with similar arm action, as his fastball. The Two-Seamer is a bit of a mystery, PitchFx did mis-classify this pitch as a regular fastball until around 2010, but it has live action and is a few ticks slower than his 4 seamer. All of his pitches have good movement on them, with his two fastballs being his best pitches. The slider is now a legit weapon and the changeup is coming along. That alone explains the uptick in strikeouts, but there’s also one more trend that appeared during spring training and has some people (myself included) optimistic about his future as a starter.

He’s walking less people.

Let’s go back to his Baseball Reference card

During Spring Training Shark walked 1 batter and struck out 16 in 20 innings of work. Spring Training stats are misleading sometimes, but I don’t think they were with Samardzija this year. His command has dramatically improved this year in limited innings. To properly illustrate that:

That’s shark in a nutshell. Drop in ERA, rise in K/9, cliff dive in BB/9 and a rocket trip in K/BB ratio.

Conclusion

He’ll probably have some missteps over the course of a long season, but the improved control and the improvement on the movement of his pitches are all reasons to be optimistic. Shark’s change in approach will raise his ceiling, the questions for the remainder of the year revolve around the durability of his arm, I think. Can he throw 150+ innings? Can he retain the gains he’s made in control? Can he be a dependable starter? I don’t know for sure, but I’m finally optimistic about Samardzija.

by Mauricio Rubio Jr.
Email:
 mr@99sportsproblems.com
Twitter: @MRubio52 

Part one, which focuses on the infield, can be found here.

Part two, which focuses on the outfield, can be found here.

Pitchers

1. Matt Garza – It’s unfortunate that Garza is a legitimate ace because the Cubs aren’t ready to reward his talent. He’ll be 28 this year and he’s an absolute stud. There’s been a lot of talk that the cubs need to trade Garza and get a good haul of prospects back for him. I’m moving into the camp that thinks it’s not absolutely necessary. I wouldn’t be mad if it did happen, but I think that Garza will still be effective into his mid 30’s when the Cubs should be ready to compete. He won’t ever be considered an elite pitcher due to his penchant to give up the home run, but you can certainly make the argument that he should be. He’s actually maintained velocity on his fastball, but he works his offspeed stuff well enough that a slight dip won’t matter.

Matt Garza's velocity

2. Carlos Marmol – Marmol will always played a dangerous game with the base on balls, but it’s crawling into scary territory now. His historic 2010 season was probably him at his peak, and I believe the Cubs would have done well to trade him then. Marmol’s top comp has always been Rob Dibble. That’s kind of an issue because Dibble’s production fell off the table at age 28 and was done with baseball at age 31. Marmol’s production did taper off in 2011, his age 28 season, as he didn’t induce more batters to swing at his White Castle Slider (it’ll make you shit your pants). That’s the issue with slider dominant relievers that rely on the strikeout, the careers are short as batters just lay off the garbage. He’s losing velocity on his fastball as well and the window to trade him may have closed already.

Marmol's velocity

3. Ryan Dempster – I don’t like the guy’s personality and I think too many fans give him a free pass because he’s “funny.” He caught very little grief for being a no-show to the 2008 playoffs and that really turned me off to the dude. All that being said he’s a decent middle of the rotation option for contending teams, but on the Cubs he starts opening day. Don’t look at the ERA from last year too much, bad defense was to blame for being over 4, but if the Cubs are looking to get any value from him they need to move him now. He’s a crafty righty who mixes pitches well enough to be solid, but his average stuff keeps him from being elite.

4. Jeff Samardzija – Just when you think you can ridicule a product from Notre Dame and write him off completely, he comes around and does that for an entire season. I remember this being the one draft pick and subsequent signing that made me start hating Hendry. He’s confounding, he never was a strikeout artist in the minors, but he almost struck out a batter per inning in the majors. He’s always had a good fastball, but he learned a cutter last season and relied less on the heat with good results.

So of course it makes sense that he’s competing for a rotation slot and has a decent chance of winning the job. I don’t know what to make of him anymore, he wasn’t worth the money that Hendry dished out to him, but his second career as a starter, which was what he was drafted as to begin with, might actually be successful.

5. Paul Maholm – He doesn’t strike anyone out and he gives up a lot of hits. That’s a bad combo for any pitcher, but it’ll be especially bad for Maholm in a Cubs uni. The Cubs defense is still trying to improve and it won’t do any favors for a Livan Hernandez like pitcher. Maholm isn’t quite the workhorse that Livan was, and he can’t handle the bat like him either. Maholm shouldn’t last long with the Cubs, he’s effectively holding the spot for someone else.

6. Travis Wood – He was much better in 2010 than he was in 2011 when he became much more hittable and saw his K-rate get slashed. LoMo vouches for Wood’s stuff, but as we all know, baseball is one big nasty game of adjustments. The league clearly adjusted to Wood and the tape is out on him, it’s up to Travis to adjust back. He’ll need to if he wants to find significant big league success. He’ll be 25 this year.

7. Chris Volstad – He’s slowly been lowering his walk rate and he posted the highest strikeout rate of his young major league career last year, but he was more hittable than ever in 2011 and he saw an uptick in his HR/9 ratio. That’s a bad combo for the Cubs. Volstad filled out physically last year, but his stuff didn’t. He’s likely to make the rotation, but the 25 year old will need to work hard to avoid the “Rotation Filler” tag that he seems destined to acquire.

8. Randy Wells – Remember him? There were the whispers that he was enjoying the North Side night life a little too much in 2010 and the allegations carried into 2011. He’s not fooling anyone with his stuff and his walk rate has been climbing since 2009. He was blasted for 23 HR’s in 135 ip last year, that’s awful. He’s a curious case and he’s going to have to find some answers in 2012 if he wants to stick around with the big club.

9. Marcos Mateo – There’s a lot of ifs with Mateo. If he’s healthy and if he can cut his contact rate, he can close if Marmol implodes. He has a good strikeout rate for a late inning reliever, but he doesn’t avoid many bats yet. He has the stuff, and he has moderate command, if he takes a step forward he can be a sleeper candidate for the closer’s role moving forward in a post-Marmol time. At the time of this writing an MRI showed no damage to his elbow but he is getting shut down for 10 days.

10. Trey McNutt – I was a fan of the McNutt experience since he was drafted, but as we all should know, AA ball is nut cutting time for prospects, and McNutt looks lost there. He needs a third pitch (and eventually a fourth) to deliever on his SP promise, but the first item on the docket is to find his mechanics again. McNutt still has age on his side, but as Chili Davis once said, “Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.” Time to grow up, McNutt.

11. Jay Jackson – Jackson has been sliding backwards since his promotion to AA in 2009. If he ever figures “it” out, he can be a useful back of the rotation option, but for now he looks like a reliever. Jackson has average stuff and a plus fastball, but he has a good combo of pitches that would be more useful in the rotation than in the pen.

12. Kerry Wood – This speaks more to the lack of organizational depth than Kerry Wood’s importance to the 2012 Cubs. I like Wood, I always have. He was a warrior and he wanted to be out there, but his body consistently failed him as he threw with an unhealthy delivery that cut his career down. He’ll be solid in 2012, but he’s likely to be done after that. I don’t know why the Cubs resigned Wood, I won’t complain too much about it since he’s a cheapish option for the ‘pen, but he won’t be on the next Cubs contender.

Synopsis

This organization is pretty bare. It’s not on the level of the White Sox (that’s not a shot kids, the Sox system is universally panned as the worst in baseball), but there isn’t a lot of help down on the farm that can compete for starting jobs. Jay Jackson is a significant prospect in the system, and that’s an issue. As for the big league club, they will struggle to win 72 games this year. The future of this team lies in the amateur drafts that take place in June. The Cubs need pitching help the most as the system is noticeably bare of impact SP talent. Effective relievers can be found through various means, but finding a solid #1 or #2 starter is difficult. The makeup of this team should be drastically different by September as Cub fans should be introduced to young talent that can make a difference at the Major League level. Anthony Rizzo is the best prospect on the team in my opinion, and his call up date should be around May-June, depending on what Bryan LaHair is up to. Brett Jackson should be a star, but not necessarily a superstar. I would be happy with his development if he ended up being Curtis Granderson before the HR explosion, or Mike Cameron.  Trey McNutt is the best pitching prospect with the departure of Cashner and Carpenter, and that’s worrisome. Dillon Maples is a name to pay attention to, but he is yet to make his pro debut.

There’s a lot of work to do, but I do trust in TheoCo. to get it done.