The lack of quality pitching in the game has never been as apparent as this year. Just look at the contracts being paid out for average, at best, pitchers. For instance, is Barry Zito really a number one pitcher? Granted he has won a Cy Young, but his numbers have declined the past few seasons, not to mention his velocity, and the same goes for his strikeout to walk ratio. The Giants are paying him the richest contract ever handed out to a pitcher, so that makes him a number one, right?
A report in the Boston Globe mentioned a few of the elite pitchers in the game, or number ones, if you will. Among those mentioned are the likes of Roy Oswalt, Chris Carpenter, Roy Holladay and Johan Santana. The Globe thinks Carlos Zambrano is approaching “ace status” but according to the free-agent trends a pitcher does not have to be an elite one to be paid like one. This is not up for debate….Carlos Zambrano is the ace of the Cubs. What is up for debate is can he take the next step in his maturation process and in turn be mentioned, by the national media, as one of the best in the game? Zambrano has the stuff and has shown how dominate he is capable of being and no matter how he pitches this coming season, barring injury, he will likely become the highest paid pitcher in the history of the game, dethroning the newly crowned Barry Zito. While Zito being paid as a number one is a debate that will go on the entire season, Zambrano being paid as an ace is a no-brainer.
Long gone are the days of the 30-game winner and last season was the first time in the history of the game there was not a 20-game winner in either league, strike-shortened seasons not included, and some wonder if the 20-game winner will soon be replaced by 15-game winners as the new standard for success as a starting pitcher. Five-man rotations have been a standard in the league for years now, replacing the four-man rotations that dominated the league for years. The importance on strong bullpens have replaced the importance on starting pitchers completing games….and pitch counts dominate a manager’s or coach’s ability to leave a starter in when he should not be yanked for a far inferior relief pitcher.
It has become a compliment to a pitcher to be known as “an innings eater”, a guy a manager knows will give him 6 to 7 strong innings every time out and in turn give that very important bullpen some much needed rest. But is that really a true compliment or more of one of the back handed variety? A pitcher should be known as a winner, nothing more or nothing less.
The Cubs have their ace in Zambrano and their innings eater in Jason Marquis, in between there are several question marks that will mean the difference between cellar dwellers and fighting for a playoff spot come September. If healthy, Lou Piniella will have several quality arms to insert into his rotation when the team leaves Mesa at the end of March. A rotation of Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Rich Hill, Mark Prior and Wade Miller could be one of the best in the league and if either Prior or Miller are replaced by the 2004 version of Jason Marquis and Hill picks up where he left off, the rotation should give the offense enough opportunity to win ballgames. And then there is Sean Marshall….that is a discussion for another day.