A casual baseball fan may glance at the win-loss record of Chicago Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija and may jump to the premature conclusion that he’s not that good of a pitcher this season. The only thing is, though, upon an inspection of the other statistics, that simply could not be further from the truth. Granted, he hasn’t been perfect this season for the North Siders. Then again, when one ponders about some of the greatest pitchers in history, such as Walter Johnson, Greg Maddux and Lefty Grove, even they had some rotten apples in their respected legendary careers here and there. Of course, that’s not to suggest Samardzija is anywhere near being accomplished as the aforementioned trio of Hall of Famers, but though he’s had some bad, he’s had a lot more good. Considering some of the things he has built on from a year ago, he has been a pleasant surprise for the Cubbies.
The man known as Shark has been out for blood this season. His first five starts to the season were all quality starts. He was a shade off another one April 29 against the Cincinnati Reds, going 5.2 innings. He then went on another slew of quality starts in three of his next four outings. There was simply one fallacy that whole time. The bats of the team’s offense simply would not wake up for the man, and when that did happen, the bullpen somehow could not shut the door on the opposition. Therefore, Samardzija would either get a no-decision, or he would be saddled with the loss, as he was four times during that period.
Then came May 26, Memorial Day. The San Francisco Giants have its eyes on a third World Series title in five seasons after a very unsuccessful defense in 2013 which resulted in a losing season. Not to be intimidated, Samardzija struck out 10 Giants and not a single one of them reached base via walk in the 7 inning he was on the mound. Everything would be in sync. The Cubs won 8-4, and yes, Samardzija finally got the win.
For Chicago’s righty, however, his next start would not be so kind to him. He found himself in his shortest outing of the season June 1, when the Milwaukee Brewers chased him after three innings. Samardzija gave up 8 runs, all of which were earned. Unfortunately for the Miami Marlins, he would shake off that bad start pretty quickly and returned to his regular 2014 form six days later. Samardzija would have his own little fish fry at Wrigley Field June 7 at Miami’s expense. He went 7 innings, fanned 8 and walked only 1. Oh, and by the way, for his efforts, Samardzija was rewarded with his second win of 2014 when the Cubs won 5-2.
Now, it’s not as if Samardzija was a complete scrub before this season. After all, he did eclipse both the 200 inning and 200 strikeout plateau a season ago. He simply has progressed magnificently since then. When comparing his statistics to a year ago from June 8, it looks to be slight improvement. He had a 3.18 ERA and surrendered 8 home runs, as opposed to a 2.54 ERA and 5 home runs allowed thru June 8, 2014. The second half of the 2013 season was not quite as kind to him as the first half was. He would finish 2013 with 25 long balls dished up and a 4.34 ERA. Contextually speaking, it took until June 1, 2014 for Samardzija to have his first start of his current campaign in giving up more than 3 earned runs. On June 8, 2013, he gave up 4 earned runs, which was the fourth time that season he let in a minimum of as many earned runs.
He has come such a long way in the past 12 months to the point where he has been the team’s biggest surprise. Though there is still a good deal of baseball left, there is little to no reason to believe Samardzija is going to revert back to his 2013 second half ways this season.