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The Chicago Cubs' Biggest Disappointment of 2013: Jeff Samardzija

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | As I wrote before, I'm not much of a believer in the "eliteness" of the Chicago Cubs' Jeff Samardzija. Namely, that's because he's spent such little time actually being elite.

On a team that is hovering around the 100-loss mark for the second straight year (93 losses with three games to go), there are no shortage of disappointments. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have had abysmal years; despite improvements elsewhere, the team still lost almost 100 games; and, most important, Jeff Samardzija came up well short of where everyone expects him to be.

Here are three reasons Samardzija's lackluster 2013 campaign makes him the Cubs' biggest disappointment in a year full of many others:

Potential vs. Reality

The Cubs know they're in need of long-term answers in the starting rotation. Travis Wood's emergence this season has been a pleasant surprise and, at only 26 and in only his fourth season, he logically looks like an improving pitcher following the natural progression of getting better as experience grows.

Not Samardzija. Beyond his durability (207 innings) and occasional pitching gem, his season has been an inconsistent mess. His ERA of 4.33 is considerably higher than you expect from your "ace," his WHIP is over 1.3, and his ERA in August and September is a combined 5.65. Samardzija doesn't look like an ace; he looks like a No. 2 or 3 pitcher with some upside. If the Cubs would treat him as that, his shortcomings would be a lot easier to overlook.

The importance of the season for Samardzija

The idea with ace pitchers is that they pitch their best when the chips are down. Prior to the season, Samardzija chose to forgo signing any kind of contract so that he prove his full worth to the organization and essentially pitch his way into a more lucrative contract.

Being on such a lacking team can offset a few of his less-than-attractive stats, but, if you're Theo Epstein, you have to be looking for more out of a supposed rotation anchor.

His struggles are more alarming than Rizzo's and Castro's

Don't misread here, Rizzo (.232 AVG, 22 HRs, 79 RBIs) and Castro (.243 AVG, 10 HRs, 44 RBIs) have both had severely disappointing seasons. What makes Samardzija's inconsistencies more alarming is specifically the age at which he's having them (28).

The fanfare and expectations that have surrounded Rizzo and Castro since their respective arrivals can make it easy to forget that both of these guys are only 24 and 23 years old, respectively. It's bordering on miraculous Starlin Castro hasn't had a season like this before now -- his fourth. The short of it is that these players are young enough that a scuffling season isn't that big of deal concerning the big picture of development.

Samardzija, on the other hand, is in his sixth season. After an intriguing rookie campaign (in limited duty), Samardzija scuffled mightily the next few seasons, bouncing between Triple-A a number of times. The majority of his success -- the point he was suddenly deemed a top-of-the-rotation starter -- was following his excellent 2011 season.

The problem was that he didn't start in 2011, it was all bullpen work. His now two full seasons as a starter haven't been without strides, as he's clearly proved himself to be a viable starter. But the two seasons show very little improvement (if any) at a time in his career when he should be showing it.

Samardzija is a quality player at a position the Cubs direly need help at, but he is a long way off from presenting himself as the anchor everyone keeps saying he is.

Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo Contributor Network and Yahoo Sports. He is also a senior majoring in Creative Writing.

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