Spring Training Series: Up on the mound- Carlos Zambrano

Having already taken a look around at the every day positional players for the Chicago Cubs, the time has come to start looking at the pitchers that will likely be in the starting rotation for 2010. There are still questions with the rotation, such as who will win the battle for the fifth starter, as well as who will fill in for Ted Lilly while he is recovering. However, there are still pitchers who are guaranteed to be a part of the rotation, such as today’s subject Carlos Zambrano; who has been tabbed as the opening day starter once again for the Cubs.


Let’s cut straight to the point with Zambrano, last year he put up a very disappointing season with only nine wins to go along with seven losses. When the pitcher who is labeled as your ace can only get you nine wins, you are going to be in for a very long season. However, if you are going to judge him just on his wins and losses, that would be completely unfair as wins and losses are more attributed to the rest of the team, than to a pitcher’s actual performance. A pitcher can give up one run a game and still have a losing record if his team can not score any runs. Giving up only one run a game, is not something Zambrano did, but his overall statistics for last year were not as bad as people are making them out to be.


Look at Zambrano’s statistics for the past three years. His ERA for the 2009 season of 3.77was better than anything he put up in 2007 or 2008. He gave up less runs than either of those two years. Could that be due to his not pitching as many innings, possibly; however the difference in innings pitched might not make much of a difference in the long run. We do not know how well he would have performed had he thrown a complete season. You can not predict what could have been, because that just simply can not be proven either which way you go.  Another statistic which was down from the previous two years was home runs allowed, including his 18 win season in 2007. His strike outs were also up from the previous year. But fell short of his 2007 total. While his WHIP (Walks and Hits by innings pitched) was higher than those two years, he still was only had an average of 1.3. That’s not bad for a power pitcher like Zambrano. The only statistic which would be a little concerning is the opponent’s batting average of .335. That is way too high of a batting average for the opposing hitters.


That was last year, and this is a brand new year for the Cubs and for Zambrano. For starters, Zambrano has come into camp down 15 pounds from last year. Considering everyone thought he needed to lose weight. That is a great start. He said that he stayed in Chicago all winter, and hired a professional trainer to help him out, as well as a personal chef to help him work on his diet. From the sounds of that, Zambrano seems to have finally found his way on the correct path to having a successful season with the Cubs. That alone would be a great change for Zambrano to make, and would satisfy several fans, but there is still more to what could be a new and improve persona for Big Z.


While we have heard all the talk from him before about realizing that he must control his emotions, this year has a little different feel. He came into camp giving us the same speech he gave in years past about how he has grown up and now understands that he can not throw a tantrum when things don’t do his way. I will put that in the ‘show me’ file before I can take him on his word on that topic. However, what has spiked my attention is what else Zambrano said upon entering camp. Along with his controlling his emotions promise, he also stated something that I never thought he would say. When asked about possible bench player and pinch hitter Kevin Millar, Zambrano mentioned how he likes Millar, and hopes he makes the team. He went further to say that the Cubs pay him to pitch, not to hit. According to one report, he even volunteered to give up batting in one spring training game so the Cubs could use the designated hitter to get Xavier Nady some much needed at bats. That is something the Zambrano from years past would never have done. He used to give off the impression that he would rather hit a game winning home run than pitching a complete game shutout.


If the Cubs do in fact have a new Zambrano, their ace pitcher might actually pitch the way the Cubs and their fans have been expecting him to pitch from day one. I am not saying that he hasn’t been a good pitcher for the team, but there have been plenty of times throughout his career when you just had to wonder if he would ever tap into his full potential. Perhaps this will be the year that he will “figure everything out” and take the next step. However, using his past success as an indicator, he needs to go out there and prove that he is who he is now claiming to be. He needs to follow up on what he is preaching in camp this year. If he doesn’t, then perhaps he never will reach his full potential.


As far as what I see Zambrano doing this year, I don’t think that he will reach the 20 win mark, and he won’t be in the running for the Cy Young award. That being said, I do see him having a much better season than he had last year. If he pitches at least as well as he did last year, and the offense comes back to life, I can see him getting anywhere from 16-18 wins against maybe nine losses, with an ERA around 3.60. They aren’t great stats, but they will be welcomed; especially after the last year when the most wins any Cubs starting pitcher had were a lowly 13, with both Lilly and Randy Wells. Can Zambrano keep everything together for the season? I sure hope so.


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