The title of this article may seem strange. After all, Jeff Samardzija made 11 starts in 2014 before he finally picked up his first win of the season on Memorial Day. His record this season stands at 1-4 and he has a career mark of 30-39 at the age of 29.
Those numbers are misleading, however. Make no mistake, the former two-sport star from Notre Dame (he was an All-American wide receiver as well) has been one of the better pitchers in the National League for each of his three full seasons as a big league starter and has been one of the best hurlers in the NL this year.
Through his first 11 starts in 2014, Samardzija has posted a 1.68 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, ranking second and ninth in the NL respectively. He’s also been incredibly durable, averaging nearly seven innings per outing and ranking fifth in the league in innings pitched.
Those are stats that should have his fantasy owners giddy, especially since his ADP of 139 makes him one of the best fantasy bargains so far this year. What’s even better for those lucky enough to have him on their team is that the six-year veteran’s peripheral stats say that this is no fluke; Samardzija has really been almost as good as his traditional stats say all year.
The long-haired right-hander has posted an FIP and xFIP (stats that work on a similar scale to ERA) of 2.79 and 3.27 respectively, figures superior to those of 2013 AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer this year (3.12 and 3.28). Although we can expect some fluctuation thanks to his slightly low BABIP (.267) and high strand rate (79.7%), it should be slight and Samardzija seems destined to finish the year with an ERA that starts with 2 or 3.
How then, can a pitcher throwing that well be ranked just 17th at his position on the ESPN Player Rater? The answer, is, as always, it hurts to be a Cub.
Chicago scored just 2.4 runs per game in Samardzija’s first 10 starts this season, leading to the hard-luck pitcher making eight quality starts and having no wins to show for it over that stretch.
It’s not uncommon for good starters to see their win-loss records suffer thanks to poor run support. Felix Hernandez has enough frequent flier miles in that club to buy himself four round-trip tickets to Hawaii.
The Cubs have been especially egregious in their mistreatment of their ace, however. Coupled with his final handful of starts last season, the Indiana native became the first pitcher since Rube Schauer (I for one miss the days when people were actually called Rube) in 1915 to go 16 starts with an ERA under 3 and zero wins).
All of this helps explain why there is still no mention of Samardzija among the game’s elite starters despite his ace-caliber stuff and improved command (he’s walking just 2.5 hitters per nine innings, the lowest rate of his career). For those of you fantasy players who own Samardzija right now, hang on to him. If you don’t, trade for him as soon as possible. With the way he’s throwing, he won’t be under the radar for long.
It might also be prudent to mention that these next two months will likely be the former fifth round pick’s last in a Cubs uniform. With the Cubbies still a few years away from contention, it seems that both Samardzija and fellow under-the-radar starter Jason Hammel (owned in just 70 percent of leagues, 3.08 ERA; check him out, waiver wire hunters) will be on the move for prospects.
Maybe if Samardzija finally gets a chance to pitch in the postseason, he’ll show why he has been one of the best-kept secrets in the NL for over two years. When you really think about it, maybe this article title isn’t so strange after all.
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