After two starts this season, Jeff Samardzija now has 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings and looks to be the Cubs’ ace when the time to contend arrives. During the 2010 and 2011 seasons when Zamardzija was pitching out of the bullpen, I wasn’t convinced that he was going to become the pitcher that Jim Hendry saw. Now that his performances are getting the attention of national writers, I wondered what Zamardzija is doing differently than he did before to look like a different pitcher. Looking at some of the information on Fangraphs, a few things have seemed to change.
First, according to Pitchf/x, Jeff Zamardzija is throwing about 20% fewer fastballs than he did in 2010 and 2011. He is throwing his slider more often and has added a splitter to his arsenal, which he didn’t throw in 2010 and 2011. Also, he has all but eliminated a curveball and change up.
Second, possibly due the mentioned pitch changes, Zamardzija is getting swinging strikes at rate of more than double what it was when he was a reliever. Last year, among qualifying pitchers, only four pitchers had a higher swinging strike rate (SwStr%) than he did. In fact, 19 of his 22 strikeouts this season have been of the swinging variety. Also, hitters are now swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone much more of the time, but making contact with those pitches out of the zone much less of the time than when he was a reliever.
Although the Cubs will not win more games than they lose this year, it will be a lot of fun to watch Zamardzija continue to progress. If you can think ahead Cub fans, imagine this guy starting Game One of a playoff series when the Cubs finally get there.