Call him Carlos, or Big Z, or El Toro but the Cubs’ pitcher that most often refers to himself in the third person is arguably the biggest key to the upcoming season. Carlos Zambrano is the number one pitcher on the Cubs’ staff and possesses the stuff to be a legitimate ace, but he has yet to put it all together over a full season.
From all reports Zambrano has arrived in Arizona much more relaxed and focused than in years past. This spring he has not made any predictions, he left that to Ryan Dempster, and has quietly gone about his business….expect for the little practical joke on Kosuke Fukudome.
Lou Piniella has preached the importance of the Cubs getting off to a good start. With the lopsided schedule, this team must win early and often. One of the key ingredients needed for a successful start is Carlos Zambrano avoiding his early season struggles. Carlos Zambrano reported to camp in shape and minus more than a few pounds. He has thrown the ball extremely well, especially in his last start when he faced one over the minimum in 6 innings and allowed just 2 balls to leave the infield. But does a good Spring Training translate to wins once the season starts?
April has not been to kind to Big Z over the years. In 33 games, 26 starts, he is 9-7 with a 4.41 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP while opponents have hit .250 against him. For comparison, other than April, his worst month is August…. 11-15 in 33 games with a 3.81 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP and a .223 opponents batting average. His August numbers are close to his career marks in ERA and WHIP (82-55 in 201 games, 180 starts, with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and a .226 opponents batting average). But nowhere near the numbers he has put up in April.
Zambrano’s Opening Day struggles have been well documented and even led Big Z to give the first start of the season to Ted Lilly during the last Cubs’ Convention, only to take back the offer once pitchers and catchers reported to Mesa last month.
Zambrano has been just short of dominating this spring, so how does this year’s tune-up compare to previous exhibition seasons and has it had any effect on April performances?
2005 Spring Training
1-0 in 5 starts (20 IP), 3 runs, all earned, on 18 hits with 5 walks and 18 strikeouts….a 1.35 ERA and a 1.15 whip
2-0 in 5 starts (31 1/3 IP), 15 runs, all earned, on 26 hits, 6 home runs allowed with 12 walks and 27 strikeouts….a 4.31 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and a .222 opponents batting average
2006 Spring Training
0-2 in 4 starts (19 IP), 8 runs, all earned, on 15 hits with 4 walks and 20 strikeouts….a 3.79 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP
0-2 in 6 starts (33 2/3 IP), 23 runs, 20 earned, on 33 hits, 6 home runs allowed with 25 walks and 38 strikeouts….a 5.35 ERA, a 1.72 WHIP and a .256 opponents batting average
2007 Spring Training
2-1 in 5 starts (20 2/3 IP), 9 runs, 6 earned, on 19 hits with 6 walks and 21 strikeouts….a 2.61 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP
2-2 in 6 starts (34 1/3 IP), 22 runs, all earned, on 37 hits, 8 home runs allowed with 19 walks and 25 strikeouts….a 5.77 ERA, a 1.63 WHIP and a .278 opponents batting average
2008 Spring Training
Zambrano is scheduled to make two more starts with one possibly in minor league camp, but here are his numbers after 4 starts
1-0 in 4 starts (15 IP), 2 runs, 1 earned, on 8 hits with 3 walks and 14 strikeouts….a 0.60 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP
Zambrano will likely pitch another 5-7 innings before Opening Day on March 31st.
Based on his three previous springs, for the most part his win-loss record does carry over into April but the biggest jump from a statistical standpoint is in walks and hits allowed….which translates into runs. Zambrano has a tendency to over throw when his emotions get the best of him but Larry Rothschild has noticed a big difference in Zambrano and hopefully that change will translate to a solid year on the field.
PECOTA is projecting Zambrano to finish the season with 13-8 record, a 3.88 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in 31 starts with 181 strikeouts and 88 walks. For the Cubs to reach the post season, Zambrano will have to put up better numbers than the projection from Baseball Prospectus.
This April should be a little different for Big Z and maybe, just maybe, a better start will make his prediction from a year ago become reality. He has his contract and all he has to do is pitch.
It is time for the bull to take the ball….and win a bunch of games.