To ‘Z’ or not to ‘Z’?
Right now Carlos Zambrano is available in over half of
Yahoo! leagues. After an impressive
seven-inning, one-run, eight-strikeout gem against the Angels on
June 20, lots of fantasy owners are probably debating whether or not to scoop
him up. While it can’t hurt to take a
flier on the starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter again, a closer look at his recent performance might serve as a red flag for his future.
First of all, reports of Zambrano’s revival after being
reinserted into the rotation have been a bit premature. The right-hander’s 3.09 ERA in four outings since his return to starting is a little misleading, as three of the five
runs he allowed to the A’s on June 15th were unearned. Unearned runs can’t hide an unattractive 1.50
WHIP, the result of allowing over a hit per inning and walking an erratic 12
Zambrano also appears to be a different pitcher than he was in his highly entertaining heyday. When Big Z was at his best — such as in a complete-game
shutout last September and when he fired a no-hitter the September prior — he dealt
primarily an overpowering four-seam fastball hovering around 94-96 mph while mixing in a
high 80s changeup and a mid-80s slider.
That is nothing close to the repertoire of Carlos Zambrano
circa 2010. Since his return to the
rotation, the majority of pitches he’s thrown have been a sinker that averages
around 88-90. His four-seamer is down
around 91, and his slider now sits in the low-80s. He’s almost ditched the
changeup completely, because with the decreased velocity of his fastball, there
isn’t enough of a change to fool opposing hitters.
Now for some optimism:
Zambrano’s sinker helped him induce eight groundballs compared to four
fly-balls against the Angels. This is
encouraging. The 29-year-old’s two best seasons in the bigs — when he rang up a
30-14 record with a 3.04 ERA from 2004 to 2005 — were the only two years he
compiled a groundball-to-fly-ball ratio above one (1.10). If he can reinvent himself and master the
sinker, he could end up becoming a quality starter with a decent ERA. However the WHIP will probably remain high
and an eight-strikeout performance will likely become an anomaly.
If all stays according to schedule, Zambrano will
tough stretch of opponents over his final four starts before the
break. He’ll take the mound at U.S.
Cellular Field against the red-hot White Sox (winners of 10 out of 11)
26. He’s then set to square off against three of the top-six
offenses in the National League — at home against Cincinnati,
in Arizona and in Los Angeles.
So if you’re desperate for starting pitching and you want to
grab the former Cubs ace go ahead, but expect a bit of a bumpy ride. Zambrano’s fiery and volatile personality
doesn’t fit the profile of a control guy who pitches to contact. He’s just not Big Z without the mid-90s heat
that blows people away.