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The upside of Jeff Samardzija
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija has been oh so close to becoming a top-of-the-rotation-quality pitcher the past two seasons.

How close has he been exactly? Not as close as the 2003 Cubs were to making the World Series, but still pretty close.

Last year, Samardzija put up a 3.34 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and 120 strikeouts over his first 113 1/3 innings.

The right-hander's season unraveled once the calendar flipped to July, however. He allowed 14 earned runs over his first 10 2/3 innings during the month and posted a 5.47 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP in his final 100 1/3 innings.

Two seasons ago, Samardzija had a 2.80 ERA over 151 1/3 innings in every month besides June, but a 10.41 ERA in June knocked his season mark down to 3.81.

In 2013, Samardzija finished with a 4.34 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP in 213 2/3 innings, but he also struck out 214 batters and had a 3.77 FIP. His difference of 0.57 runs between ERA and FIP was the 13th-highest in the majors.

The Cubs starter ranked sixth in the majors among qualified hurlers in K/9 over the past two seasons with a rate of 9.13.

Fantasy owners aren't drafting Samardzija as an ace, or even a top-30 starter in most leagues, so there's not much risk in selecting him, but he has as much upside as any mid-tier starter in baseball this season.

Samardzija was hurt by a .314 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last year, ninth-worst in the majors and 22 points higher than the MLB average, even though his line-drive rate of 20.4 percent was lower than the league average.

The right-hander had the best ground-ball rate of his career in 2013, inducing a grounder on 48.2 percent of his batted balls (up from 44.6 percent in 2012).

Samardzija had a 21.4 percent line-drive rate and a 46.8 percent ground-ball rate with runners in scoring position (RISP), and his BABIP was .336 in those situations.

That's one of the reasons why Samardzija's strand rate was 71.7 percent, lower than the MLB average of 73.5 percent. Allowing 10 of his 25 home runs with at least one man on base and four with two or more on also didn't help matters.

Over the last three months of the season, the 29-year-old had a .333 BABIP.

Blame the Billy Goat if you want, but I think Samardzija is going to see some better luck this season.

Starters with 95-mph fastballs, plus sliders and a proven track record of striking out 9.0 batters per nine innings at the major league level aren't readily available outside the top 10, but Samardzija will be there for the taking after Round 10.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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