It's about time that Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano will pitch in the eighth inning. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, we're talking about as a relief pitcher as the Cubs announced his move to the bullpen today.
In 2006, Barry Zito signed a $126 million, seven-year deal with the San Francisco Giants. This contract, rightly so, was outrageous as he was not an elite starting pitcher. While he has struggled at times, he has still given the Giants some good to great games and an okay performance overall.
In the summer of 2007, Zambrano signed a $91.5 million, five-year contract extension (with optional sixth season) with the Cubs. This contract probably should have received the same treatment as the Zito contract. Zambrano has struggled sometimes, save for one game and hasn't topped 200 innings pitched since 2007.
Zito and Zambrano are strangely similar besides the fact that their last names begin with Z. Zito's career pitcher slash stats are .9 hr/9, 3.7 bb/9, 6.7 so/9 and 1.82 so/bb. Zambrano's career slash stats are .7 hr/9, 4.1 bb/9, 7.7 so/9 and 1.91 so/bb. In the two seasons prior to signing his big contract, Zito had a 4.37 FIP in 2005 and a 4.94 FIP in 2006. In the two seasons prior to signing his big contract extension, Zambrano had a 3.62 FIP in 2005 and a 4.15 FIP in 2006. He signed the contract extension in the middle of posting a 4.55 FIP in 2007. Clearly, both pitchers were treading downward and didn't have the stuff to warrant the high contract. Somehow Giants GM Brian Sabean and Cubs GM Jim Hendry are still employed despite these outrageous signings among other horrible signings.
A couple of quotes to take away from the article:
"I told him we really needed him in the bullpen," [Lou] Piniella told reporters in New York before facing the Mets, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "We felt he could do a really nice job for us there."
And then later:
The Cubs' bullpen ERA entering action Wednesday was 6.15 with a 1-6 record. The bullpen has blown 4-of-7 save opportunities this season.
"I'm confident this will help our situation out," Piniella said, according to the Tribune. "This makes all the sense in the world. This is a significant move, not a panic move."
I realize that Zambrano has struggled, but we're talking about a $91.5 million relief pitcher. He's still one of the top five starting pitchers on the team. Also, I'm not sure a guy who has a career 4.4 walks per 9 innings would make for a good relief pitcher.
The other problem is that we are talking about four starts. Sure, they were bad starts, but the only number that jumps out in these four starts that is different than in the past is the 1.9 home runs allowed per 9 innings. His walks per 9 innings are slightly up, but his strikeouts per 9 innings are really up. Those numbers should balance out to something similar to last year's numbers and his home run rate should also go down.
Relief pitchers are a dime a dozen--unless they are Mariano Rivera and a couple others. They struggle, they dominate and ultimately they are replaceable. They shouldn't be making $91.5 million. As long as Zambrano, who never deserved that contract to begin with, is one of the five best starting pitchers, the Cubs should throw him out there like the Giants did with Zito. And if he's not, look to trade him or just swallow some pride and try to buy out his contract.
Finally, here are a couple of links and tweets regarding the situation:
I read this Jack Moore story after writing my post and reading Rob Neyer's blog. Moore emphasizes the same points about Zambrano and brings in the Carlos Silva angle. Interesting enough Silva pitched 6 innings of 2 hit, 1 run, 2 walk and 4 strikeout baseball tonight against the New York Mets. Personally I would think Tom Gorzelanny would be the odd man out. But really, any start now Carlos Silva should turn back into Livan Hernandez.
Jonah Keri tweeted: "The Cubs are paying Lou Piniella $3.75 million/yr to decide that Carlos Silva deserves a starting job over Carlos Zambrano. That's special."
Dave Cameron tweeted: "Cubs moving Carlos Zambrano to bullpen, leaving Carlos Silva in rotation. #CarlosFail"
Keith Law tweeted: "Uh ... got nothin'. RT @sitrick2: @keithlaw Please, if possible, explain the logic of moving Zambrano to the bullpen."
And the best one. williamnyy23 tweeted: "@keithlaw It's obvious. The Cubs keep blowing leads, so Lou thinks it would be easier if the team never had any to begin with."