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Why Jeff Samardzija Can Still Be an Ace in Major League Baseball

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija may have earned his opening-day start largely by default due to Matt Garza coming out of the gate with an injury, but it is still disappointing for Cubs fans to see him enter May with a 1-4 record.

As ESPN's Bruce Levin pointed out, Samardzija's most recent outing against the San Diego Padres serves as a bit of a prototype for the season he's having so far: a high strikeout total but too many walks, which lead to a high pitch total and an early exit with a no-decision.

Samardzija's best statistical season to date occurred in 2011 when he went 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA on a team that lost 91 games.

His current underachieving record persists despite a month with an impressive 47 strikeouts. He has also maintained a reasonably low ERA at 3.35. The truth is, these and plenty of other reasons suggest that Samardzija can still be a legitimate ace in Major League Baseball.

His best days are probably still in front of him. At 28, he's not exactly young, but pitchers like Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer show that a healthy pitcher can play the game for a long time. Samardzija is obviously more of a power pitcher than the other two, but so far his 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound frame has seemed quite durable.

As I've written before, Samardzija starred in football at Notre Dame, which almost certainly contributes to his above-average athleticism.

Nicknamed "Shark," his durability may or may not also relate to his highly disciplined work habits, during both the season and offseason. His productivity has improved steadily throughout his career, which I expect to continue.

If nothing else, Samardzija will almost surely play on a team at some point in his career -- for the Cubs or another team -- that will support him offensively. To date, his current team is the 25th-best scoring team in baseball.

Samardzija grew up in the Midwest and certainly seems like the kind of person and player who could be loyal to an organization, but that is not something the Cubs ought to take for granted. He and the Cubs are reportedly negotiating a long-term contract extension. As he told the New York Times recently, "I want to pitch here in October."

Samardzija is next slotted to start Saturday, May 4 at home against the Cincinnati Reds.

Chris Schumerth is a freelance writer who grew up in Northern Indiana following the Cubs. You can follow him on Twitter @schumes22.

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