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Jeff Samardzija

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Jeffrey Alan Samadzija
(Shark)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Jeff Samardzija was a football All-American but chose a career in baseball instead and made his major league debut in 2008.

[edit] High School

Samardzija was more noted for his work in football than baseball in high school. He had 1,197 receiving yards, 55 catches and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2001. As a junior, he had 3 interceptions at safety and was an All-American. As a senior, he caught 50 passes for 1,044 yards and 9 touchdowns and was runner-up for the Indiana Mr. Football Award. That year, he was All-State in baseball, going 6-3 with a 3.28 ERA and hitting .467 with 55 RBI as a center fielder. He also played basketball in high school.

[edit] College

Going on to the University of Notre Dame, Samardzija was 5-3 with a save and a 2.95 ERA in 2004. The freshman was second in the Big East Conference in ERA among pitchers who worked an average of 1.0 IP per team game or more. He held opponents to a .209 average, second to Chris Lambert in the Big East. He held left-handers to a .160 average. Collegiate Baseball named him a freshman All-American.

As a sophomore, Jeff was 8-1 with a 3.89 ERA though opponents hit .272 against him. He led the Fighting Irish in victories and strikeouts (56).

In the 2005 football season, Samardzija was an All-American and one of the three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award awarded to the best college receiver. He set Notre Dame season records for touchdown catches (15) and overall catches (77, tied). His 1,249 yards receiving were third in the storied history of the Fighting Irish. He caught passes in 8 straight games, a team record.

Following that fine football campaign, Jeff returned to the mound and fell to 8-2, 4.33 as his ERA rose for the third year in a row. He was one behind teammate Jeff Manship and Nick Tucci for the Big East lead in wins and made the All-Conference team at pitcher.

[edit] Draft

Scouted by Stan Zielinski, the Chicago Cubs picked Samardzija in the 5th round of the 2006 amateur draft, their second overall pick as they had no choices in rounds 2-4. Due to their lack of picks, the Cubs were ready to open their wallets for an expensive, but potentially high-reward pick whose talent was significantly higher than his placing in the draft. He received a contract that allowed him to continue his football career; he was slated to make $7.25 million if baseball remained his primary sport. It was the highest bonus of the draft, more than double #1 overall choice Luke Hochevar. It was also the highest bonus in draft history, over a million more than Justin Upton had netted a year earlier. It also obviously set a record for a 5th-round pick.

[edit] Minor leagues

The tall right-hander debuted with the Boise Hawks in 2006 and was 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA in 5 starts, earning a promotion to the Peoria Chiefs, where he was 0-1 with a 3.27 ERA in two games. Returning to college for a final football season, he caught 78 passes for 1,017 yards and 12 touchdowns. He decided to skip the NFL draft to focus on baseball.

Samardzija split 2007 between the Daytona Cubs (3-8, 4.95, .323 opponent average) and the Tennessee Smokies (3-3, 3.41). Despite his struggles, Baseball America named him the #19 prospect in the Florida State League, right behind Eddie Morlan, based on his ability to handle a relatively high level of play in spite of his limited pitching experience.

Samardzija opened 2008 with Tennessee and went 3-5 with a 4.86 ERA before moving up to the Iowa Cubs. After 6 games in Iowa, he had a 4-1, 3.13 record. He was called up to Chicago to replace the injured Kerry Wood in late July.

[edit] Major leagues

Samardzija made his major league debut relieving Ryan Dempster with a 2-1 lead in the 7th against the Florida Marlins on July 25, 2008. He struck out Alfredo Amezaga, his first MLB opponent. Hanley Ramírez then singled and stole second before coming home on a double by Jorge Cantú. He tossed a scoreless 8th and left for pinch-hitter Jim Edmonds with the score tied at 2. He went 1-0 with a 2.28 ERA in 26 games as a reliever that season, then pitched once against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. However, he struggled badly after that promising start to his major league career, as his ERAs were 7.53 and 8.38 in 2009 and 2010. Expected to become the main set-up man for closer Carlos Marmol, he was instead moved to the back of the bullpen and given a few starts, but had terrible control problems, walking over a batter per inning in 2010.

Samardzija turned things around in 2011, when he pitched 75 games out of the bullpen and went 8-4, 2.97 in 88 innings. He tied Nick Masset and Marmol for 10th in the 2011 NL in appearances. He had finally managed to harness his excellent stuff, striking out 87 batters over that span, while reducing his walks to 50, and allowing only 64 hits. The Cubs then had to decide what his future role would be, especially as Marmol was not always reliable himself, and Jeff seemed to have closer's stuff. However, the team's new manager in 2012, Dale Sveum, decided to go in the opposite direction, moving him to the starting rotation instead. The move worked to a large extent, as he was the most reliable starter on a very poor team, particularly after nominal ace Matt Garza went down with an injury. He made 28 starts, pitching 174 2/3 innings, while striking out 180 batters. His record was only 9-13 - the Cubs lost over 100 games that season - but his 3.81 ERA was good for a 103 ERA+. He was second in the 2012 NL in K rate, behind Gio Gonzalez, tied for 5th in losses (two behind leader Tim Lincecum) and tied for 3rd with 10 wild pitches. These were very encouraging numbers for a pitcher who was getting his first look as a starter, and in spring training in 2013, when Garza was again struggling with injuries, Sveum named him the team's Opening Day starter. He was a winner that day, 3-1 over the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he then immediately went into a funk, losing his next four starts consecutively, and then falling to 1-5 before picking up his second win of the year on May 15th. That day, he pitched 8 innings against the Colorado Rockies and hit a two-run homer off Jon Garland to lead the Cubs to a 6-3 win. The homer was the second of his career, as he had connected off Chris Narveson of the Milwaukee Brewers on September 23, 2009. On May 27th, he pitched his first career shutout, a masterful two-hitter while fanning 8 against the crosstown Chicago White Sox as the Cubs won, 7-0. He faded to 8-13, 4.34 for the year, with 214 K in 213 2/3 IP. His OPS+ was down to 91. He was among the 2013 NL leaders in K rate (5th, between Stephen Strasburg and Cliff Lee), innings (5th, between Cole Hamels and Jordan Zimmermann), strikeouts (4th, between Adam Wainwright and A.J. Burnett), homers allowed (5th with 25), walks (78, 2nd to Jeff Locke), hits allowed (210, 3rd, behind Wainwright and Eric Stults), earned runs (103, 2nd, 5 behind Edison Volquez) and losses (tied for 6th with Kyle Kendrick and Stults).

Samardzija was named the Cubs' opening day starter for 2014 and became an unwitting part of history that day when his manager, Rich Renteria challenged umpire Bob Davidson's out call against him at first base. It was the first use of a manager's challenge under the new expanded video review rule, but the video evidence confirmed that Davidson had made the right decision. Samardzija had a great day, shutting out the Pirates for 7 innings but Francisco Liriano matched him zero for zero and Pittsburgh wound up winning 1-0 in 10 innings. In fact, after 7 starts, Jeff had pitched brilliantly and had a 1.62 ERA - but had no wins and three losses to show for it, a result of terrible run support by his teammates. In fact, he was the first pitcher to open a season with seven straight starts of at least five innings with fewer than three earned runs and record no wins in the process since George Dumont of the 1917 Washington Senators, and even Dumont had a higher ERA, at 1.94. He made another solid start on May 10th against the Atlanta Braves, allowing no runs on two hits over the first 6 innings, but still getting no runs in support; he was replaced by Brian Schlitter in the 7th, who gave up a couple of runs and took a 2-0 loss, and Jeff remained winless in spite of being one of the majors' best pitchers. More frustration followed on May 21st, when he pitched 7 scoreless innings against the New York Yankees, lowering his ERA to 1.46, only to see Hector Rondon blow a 2-0 lead in the 9th and the Cubs lose, 4-2, in 13 innings. he finally recorded his first victory on May 26th, 8-4 over the San Francisco Giants; he doubled in a run and scored another in the game, to make sure he finally had enough run support to make it to the win column. He was at 2-7, 2.83 after 17 starts on July 4th when he was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with rotation-mate Jason Hammel in return for three top prospects - SS Addison Russell, OF Billy McKinney and P Dan Straily. He opened his career as a member of the A's on a winning note, defeating the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2, on July 6th; he was also named to the All-Star team for the first time that day, representing the Cubs, however. That meant he would have to be replaced on the National League squad and would be unable to take part in the game. He ended up going 5-6, 3.14 in 16 starts for the A's, pitching well again but falling victim to a prolonged slump by Oakland's hitters in the second half, that almost cost them a playoff spot. Overall, he was 7-13 in spite of a very good 2.99 ERA over 219 2/3 innings, a career high. He topped 200 strikeouts for the second straight year, ending up with 202. However, the A's decided to go with another one of their costly mid-season acquisition, Jon Lester, in the do-or-die Wild Card Game against the Kansas City Royals in Kansas City, while Jeff was saved for a later date that never came as the A's lost the game in extra innings.

After going all out for a title with no success in 2014, the Athletics decided to re-tool and on December 8th, rumors emerged that Samardzija was headed back to Chicago, although his new team would not be the Cubs but the Chicago White Sox. In return, the A's were to receive a package of prospects including 3B Marcus Semien and P Chris Bassitt. On December 9th the trade was made official. Minor-league pitcher Michael Ynoa went to Chicago with Samardzija, while catcher Josh Phegley and first baseman Rangel Ravelo moved on to Oakland with Semien and Bassitt.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • NL All-Star (2014)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (2013 & 2014)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 2 (2013 & 2014)

[edit] Sources

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