There’s a relatively new phenomenon sweeping across baseball this year; the idea of “shutting down” a pitcher before the end of the season. Obviously, the most notable example of this is the decision by Washington Nationals personnel to end mega-star-in-the-making Stephen Strasburg’s season early.
But, as we all know by now, the Chicago Cubs made a similar decision, ending first-year starter Jeff Samardzija’s campaign the first week of September.
While the intelligence of the Strasburg decision – which, not so surprisingly, I fully support – has legitimate questions, Samardzija’s seems pretty straight forward.
While the Nationals have the playoffs to worry about, the Cubs clearly do not. For Washington, it’s a question of going for it with a still-incredibly-young team this year, or making a better, more-experienced run at a championship in the future.
For the Cubs, it’s simply a matter of keeping Samardzija healthy and limiting the pointless wear and tear on his arm.
At the age of 27 this season, the right-hander threw far and away the most innings of his career with 174.2 innings pitched in 28 starts. While that doesn’t sound like an incredible load for those of us who are used to 33-35 starts and 200 innings pitched per year, fans also need to understand the game isn’t the same as it was twenty years ago.
The hitters are better, the sliders are sharper, the fastballs have more pop. As a whole, pitchers are throwing more pitches that have the ability to shred their arms than they ever have in the past.
And when you look at Samardzija, though he’s only thrown 174 innings this year, he’s still experienced a decent amount of wear and tear, throwing 100 or more pitches in 13 of his starts, including each of his last three, culminating with a 120-pitch outing.
So, with his season now at an end, lets take a look back at how the hurler performed in his first big league season as a member of the rotation. All in all, it’s probably pretty fair to say that most fans had relatively low expectations for Samardzija, who took significantly longer to develop than many fans had hoped.
Still, it’s hard to look at his season totals and be anything but impressed.
The former college football star ended the year with a 3.81 ERA, 1.219 WHIP and 180 K to only 56 BB. To put that in perspective, Samardzija had 50 BB in only 88 innings in 2011. This season, in almost exactly double the innings, he had only six more walks than the season prior. That’s pretty good no matter how you slice it.
To add on to his impressive list of first-year accomplishments in the rotation, Samardzija finished his 2012 campaign by going seven or more innings in nine of his last 13 starts. Again, that’s pretty good.
While some fans out there might still be a little discouraged with his 9-13 record on the season, it’s hard to blame a pitcher for losing games when the offense behind him is bad at best, and absolutely nonexistent at worst.
The real test for Samardzija will be what he does next season as he enters the prime of his career, if he continues to progress as impressively as he did this year, the Cubs could be looking at a future front-of-the-rotation starter, possibly even an ace.
Of course, there’s also a chance he’s reached his ceiling as a pitcher. But, in all reality, a 3.81 ERA and 1.219 WHIP are nothing to scoff at, and would look pretty darn good sitting in the three or four spot in the rotation for years to come.
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