Today, Carlos Zambrano threw a simulated game, in order to stretch him out for his eventual return to the starting rotation for the Chicago Cubs, which could come as soon as next week. This has re-opened the can of worms that was opened when the move was initially made, and new discussions have been brought up, such as why was he moved to the bullpen if you were just going to put him back a month later. This has been one of the biggest head scratching moves the Cubs have made in a long time, and I don’t mind telling you that how they are handling things is really upsetting me. The roller coaster ride that is the Chicago Cubs season, keeps surprising me.
Before I get too far into this discussion, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. First and foremost, I don’t believe that he should have ever been taken out of the starting rotation to fill a void elsewhere. Was he struggling at the start of the year? There can be little doubt that he wasn’t having the kind of year that the team and fans would have been hoping for from their ACE pitcher. Statistically speaking, he has been one of the best 10-20 pitchers in all of baseball over the past 10 years. Taking him out of the rotation was nothing more than a desperation move to begin with. I can fully understand why he was put in the bullpen, but that doesn’t mean that I am in favor of the move.
I can understand why he was moved, because they had a desperate need to get a strike out pitcher into the eighth inning to help get the ball to their closer Carlos Marmol. The players they had in that role were not getting the job done. John Grabow and Esmailin Caridad did nothing but throw gas onto an already out of control fire. They needed a fireman who could possibly extinguish any threat, and ensure the Cubs kept their lead, however small, and preserve a win. In the beginning, the move was called temporary. He was only going to stay in the bullpen until the Cubs were able to find a replacement, a pitcher they could depend on to get the job done. How long that would take was anyone’s guess, because the season was still young and no one would be giving up valuable setup pitchers this early in the season.
Zambrano’s ERA before the move to the bullpen was 7.45, with an eye popping 16 earned runs in 19.1 innings of work. Hitters were also teeing off on him, at a .317 clip. He was off to a horrible start, and looked like he was headed to a bust of a year, and would fail to come close to what he was able to do last year. However, if you take out that first start of the year, his statistics look far better. In is next three starts, his last ones before being exiled to the bullpen, he had an ERA of 4.00 (I know, still not great) but He threw quality start after quality start. Hitters were hitting only .274 against him. Much better than his statistics as a whole for all of his starts of the season. That just goes to show you how one bad start can kill a pitcher’s stat line, making things hard for him to come back to the expected performance. Think one bad start for a starting pitcher hurts a stat line, just imagine how hard things are for a relief pitcher to have a respectable stat line after a bad inning.
So the desperate move was made, and Zambrano was put into the pen. While the hope was that he would be a success, the outcome told a different story. Here is a brief look at just how things went for Zambrano in his month long bullpen stint. In his time in the pen, he had mixed results. He started off a little shaky, but he got the job done. He had a string of good outings, and then he had a bad one. After that, some more good outings, followed by a bad one. When they decided he was going to go back to the rotation, Zambrano put up a string of a few more good outings again.
If someone were to ask me if he should stay in the bullpen, I would have to say no. Not because he should never have been put in the pen to begin with, but because the results of the move has not done anything to help the team win games. As things stand, he has the second highest bullpen ERA of anyone currently in the Cubs bullpen, behind only John Grabow. If you want to add Bob Howry into that discussion as well fine, but with the Cubs he has pitched .1 inning and has an ERA of 0.00. I did not include him in the Cubs bullpen ERA because I don’t care what you do with other teams, all that matters is what you do for us.
In the bullpen, Zambrano has pitched in 11 games, pitching 11.1 innings. he has giving up six earned runs striking out nine but walking only two while giving up 16 hits. While this is a small sample size, they did not get the immediate results that they would have hoped to get from adding Zambrano into the bullpen. They did not get the lights out stuff they had hoped to get, so they are giving up on the experiment after a month, and putting him back where he is most comfortable. The question now becomes, who do you put into the bullpen to replace Zambrano?
The likely choice of who moves to the pen, is either Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny. But why would you move one of the best two pitchers in the Cubs pen? As far as stuff, they are not the best, but you can not argue with results. Silva leads the team with six wins and is second on the staff in ERA, tied for second in fewest walks but also last in strike outs. Gorzelanny leads the team in ERA, but has the second most walks and second most strike outs in the starting staff. Gorzelanny has gotten screwed on his run support, which is evident in his 2-4 record. However, to make room in the starting staff, there are a couple outcomes which could make the decision a lot easier for the Cubs.
The Cubs could make a trade, in which case any of the current five starters could be moved for some promising young prospects and free up a little cash. If this is the case, count out Silva and Zambrano. They wont be moved at all. Silva because of what he is owed, and Zambrano because of what he is owed and a little thing known as a No-Trade Clause. Ted Lilly could draw some interest being in his final year, but his delayed start due to an injury and slow start might not get you too many takers. Ryan Dempster would be the most appealing starter for any other team to want. He has a manageable contract and is pitching well, despite his record. Gorzelanny, low money and is pitching well. He could be attractive to a team as well. Randy Wells could also draw some interest as he has pitched well, and is still under team control for a few more years.
The other possible move would be a temporary move. Gorzelanny or Lilly could be placed on the DL. Lilly could be explained away as his coming back to early, hence giving an excuse as to why he hasn’t pitched that well. Gorzelanny could go on the DL because he got nailed by a line drive. This would give the Cubs a little time to work out what they want to do.
Before you start in on the six man rotation talk, think about why that would never work. While you would get extra rest for your starting staff, which would allow them to go deeper into games, and limit the use of the bullpen, you would also be taking away starts from your best pitchers. In a normal five man pitching staff, assuming you don’t skip the fifth starter when you can, each pitcher gets 32 starts, with your top two starters getting 33 starts. In a six man staff, each starting pitcher would get 27 starts. Why would you want to take five starts away from your best pitchers? That makes no sense if you want to win. Perhaps taking the bullpen out of the equation would offset the fewer starts from the better pitchers (and lets be honest all of the pitchers are pitching well), but I still would not approve of or recommend such a move.
Whatever happens, whoever comes out of the rotation when Zambrano returns, we are sure to find out in a weeks time. I will make one guarantee though, whatever move is made, whoever is taken out of the rotation, there will be some loud grumblings coming out of Cubbie Nation.