Carlos Zambrano Loves Lucky Charms

Would you believe that for the first time since 2004 Carlos Zambrano’s tRA is under 4.5? Heck, for the first time since 2005 his FIP is under 4. I would heap praise on Zambrano’s improvement and such, but it’s not really to his credit.

Zambrano’s career home run per fly ball rate is 9.1% which falls into the 9-12% range we usually look for in starting pitchers. This year his HR/FB% is 6.5%. Everyone reading this is well aware that 6.5% is less than 9.1%. What happened? Well, he didn’t move to a pitchers park or an inferior league and he didn’t become a groundball maven or reliever, so that means he’s just been on the receiving end of some really good luck and wind gusts on his outfield flies.

His pitch selection has altered little; fewer fastballs per 100 pitches, more cutters in place of sliders, and some extra split-fingered pitches. His stuff gets more groundballs than fly balls which is a positive sign, but generally speaking there’s nothing here to indicate he’s going to continue giving up less than seven home runs per 100 fly balls. That means you should expect regression moving forward which will balloon his tRA and FIP upon its arrival.

He sells himself if the Cubs decide to put him on the block. He’s won 99 games since 2003 (an average of ~14 wins per season), a shiny ERA, and a recognizable name. Zambrano is no longer the stellar pitcher he was from 2003-2006 (although he’s still above average) but he’s not exactly Jeff Suppan either. Factor in his hitting — which seems silly, but his wRAA over the last three years projects him to be a -5 < x < 0 hitter during any given season – as an upgrade over most pitchers and you get a nice package.

I wouldn’t recommend dishing out the players and 18.3 million for him through 2013, but I’m sure some team will.




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22 Responses to “Carlos Zambrano Loves Lucky Charms”

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  1. Brian says:

    I would note Zambrano’s BABIP is .316 , which is significantly higher than the .258-.277 range from the past four years.

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  2. Rodney King says:

    I’m not exactly sure what your point is with the BABIP tidbit, but I looked at Zambrano yesterday in the wake of this hubbub and came to much the same conclusion as RJ, except the part about him selling himself if he’s on the block. Teams will probably discount him quite a bit due to his antics, and few teams can afford the salary which could prevent bidding from getting too heated. Honestly, I think he’s worth pretty much zero going forward. Carlos has been about a 3-win pitcher the last 3 years, and while I am not sure how muchyou’re saying to add for hitting, I can’t imagine it would be more than a win?? Maybe 0.5 is reasonable. Then, you have injury risk on top of the declined skillset: he is getting hurt off and on the past two years, and his arm slot flying all over the place is likely not a positive trait. This 18MM/yr “deal” which is probably the high end of what we’ll see production-wise from here on out for big Z- while nowhere near the worst contract on the Cubs, it is the most likely to trick someone with, i guess. So trade away:: I would take some marginal prospect maybe with a couple million in surplus value straight up for Z within one minute of receiving the offer. The Cubs will not regret it. The only source of regret, and this is a worry- is that if they do unload Z, who will they buy? Because it is scary what Hendry might want to do with 18 mil free- you can buy SIX AARON MILES!! gotta snap those up. But pick up a mid-level starter on a short cheapish deal, add a platoon guy or O-dog or anything not named “proven closer” or “CHONE”.

    Does anyone actually think Zambrano has significant surplus value with his contract? I imagine there are a lot of these people, but most of them speak in Aces and Wins, while I think he COULD turn it around it seems to me like the chances of this are slim. I am willing to back this up with the following offer: I will bet even money over the life of the contract that Z’s production will fall short of his salary. Based on the Value stat, with more terms mutually defined if any serious takers ensue: I’d do this for any amount up to $100 wagered per $1 million in surplus/deficit value. Example, let’s say he ends up surpassing the contract by $20 million, you would win 20*unit size, so that could be $2,000. If he blows up next year and Mike Hamptons through a few years of surgery and suckfests, and underperforms the contract by $50 million…then you’d owe $5k with the max unit size. Let’s say a minimum unit size of $5, since it wouldn’t be interesting over four years with less than that. Any takers??

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    • Steve says:

      agreed. if the Cubs eat money they might get a player back, otherwise it will be a straight salary dump.

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    • Hal says:

      C’mon you need to offer 1.5 to 1 odds to make this remotely interesting. 2 to 1 of he’s traded to the AL.

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    • Brian says:

      The point was that the original article said to expect a regression because of his low HR/FB rate. But should we not expect from regression from the higher than career average BABIP too? I can’t say if the two would balance each other out, but I wouldn’t ignore those facts when evaluating him.

      That being said, he’s certainly not worth 18 million a year and I don’t consider him a staff ace (and haven’t for a while).

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  3. Dan says:

    I’d have to agree. Even if you only follow non-sabermetric measures Zambrano isn’t a $18 million a year pitcher by any stretch of the imagination. Even at a straight salary dump, their are only a few teams with the budget to take him. They probably know better than to do so. Except maybe the Mets.

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  4. Brian says:

    Also: Zambrano has a full no-trade clause (as does almost every 10mil+ year player on the Cubs). Unless he asks to go somewhere, he won’t.

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  5. Joe says:

    I hate to get illogical on this site –
    but as a Cubs fan I’d hate to see him traded. He’s easily the most exciting pitcher, if he doesn’t earn his money in production he earns it in fan draw.

    I’ll try to get back to logic here –
    I use fangraphs all the time, but all good pitchers are pitching above their head according to tra and fip. I think maybe Greinke is one example, his defense sucks really bad. 90% of good pitchers beat their FIP and TRA year after year.

    His fastball has slowed down since the prime, but it’s steadied itself. At the same time he’s getting more expereince and adjusting to his reduced speed, which is still fast enough to be effective.

    I’d expect a worse case scenerio of a high 3 ERA next year, probably around 3.5-3.6.

    His injury issues bother me, but with reduced workloads this year and last maybe next year will be better.

    When you point out a flaw like inconsistant arm slot – That’s no reason to dispair. That’s just something that can be fixed. If it’s not fixed, we’ll get more of the same, which is still good.

    I’m not saying there’s nothing to worry about – but I see more reasons to be optimistic than pessimistic about him next year.

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  6. Joe says:

    Also his K rate is up to 8.05, a drastic improvement over last year.

    A large improvement in BB is unexpectable, but a modest improvement and bapip normalization would help him out tremendously. Maybe gaining a consistant arm angle would help that.

    I think peripherals are less accurate with Zambrano because of his streaky nature. He’s usually either bad or extremely good, and seldom just ok. TRA and FIP I believe rely on pitchers to be at their average most of the time.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Maybe gaining a consistant arm angle would help that.

      Pssst … Even as a cardinal fan, I must admit I really enjoy watching Big Z. Don’t tell anyone. While his constant forehead wiping and crotch grabbing drives my ADD crazy, I really like watching him pitch. His mechanics are pretty good (He really sits on the back leg), and he has great “Latin” arm action.

      I’m interested in the “consistent” arm angle thing, because it could help control (certainly), but a “floating” release point also makes pitches feature varying movement and harder to pick up.

      The thing I wonder with Z is if he means to vary his arm slot or if it happens because he loses focus (no doubt about it, Z loses focus quite a bit). I say that because when i watch him and he “loses a batter” (walks him) he really misses. What hurts him most is that with his FB, he really seems to miss “in the zone”. What I mean by that is that instead of losing his fastball low and away, he loses it up and over the plate. Sure, it’s a strike, but it’s “missing in the zone” which is often times worse.

      With his body type, sometimes i wonder if it’s a combination of loss of focus, and balance, leading to rushing (front leg), which causes his arm to drag, resulting in a higher release point (from 3/4′s) that causes pitches to stay on a higher plane.

      He’s hard for to gauge, because I don;t watch all of his starts, and he’s “effectively erratic” at times that he’s hard to get a good read on. However, if he had a more consistent release point, like say Bartolo Colon, he might be easier to hit, because the ball “becomes visible” to the hitter at the same time, from the same place, each and every time.

      I’m not a big fan of the “floating arm slot”, but some pitchers use it effectively. In actuality, there is a small “range” of arm slots that a pitcher could use and still be considered a “consistent slot”, and that’s what I would like to see Z achieve a little more of, while using the various arm slots on PURPOSE and at effective times.

      I said a lot just to say “Big Z can be a confusing pitcher”. IMHO, (and I love the guy), alot of Big Z problems are between his ears and just above his belt. Focus and some conditioning could rejuvenate Z’s career. Big pitchers like him, with nice arm action, and decent movement, generally are effective for a long time in MLB.

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  7. Archie says:

    Hendry has a lot of these albatross contacts on the Cubs right now.

    Z – ’10 through ’12 with PO for ’13 at $17.75 – 18M per year
    Bradley (yikes) – ’10 & ’11 at $9 and $12M respectively
    Soriano – ’10-’14 at $18M per through ’14 (likely the worst contract on the team as Soriano will be 38 at the end of this deal
    Fukudome – ’10 & ’11 at $13 and $13.5M

    In all in these 4 players,(to say nothing of DLee, Ramirez, Dempster, Lilly) that is $57.875 committed for 2010, $61.375 for 2011. When you add in, the four above, you get $111.125M for 2010 and $89.475 for 2011.

    The Cubs are going to have some contact issues to work through over the next couple of years. The most pressing right now is quite obviously Milton Bradley.

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    • JoeIQ says:

      Bradley isn’t a total loss. He’s only slightly overpaid.
      D Lee looks like he might be a bargain at that price at this point.
      Zambrano will earn most of his contract, maybe slightly overpaid.

      Soriano – A bad year, not yet a bad contract. Most of his struggles this year seem to stem from HR/FB rate.

      Lilly has already earned his 40 mil as fangraphs has already pointed out.

      Dempster is a FA next year I believe, he’ll earn his money.

      Ramirez also is worth well above his pay.

      I don’t see the problem. The Cubs have announced they’ll pay whatever to win a world series. Everyone has people not earning the entirety of their check.

      Bradley was a safe bet to improve next year. Now with this suspension business it’s hard to say what the cubs will do. He did apologize nicely though. I’ve never been as down on Bradley as everyone else. Lots of people struggle their first year of a contract.

      The Fukudome contract was bad management but he’s getting better.

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    • JoeIQ says:

      Actually, I was surprised to see Fukudome has earned more than his contract since becoming a Cub, making him a good deal.

      Good contracts – D Lee, Ted Lilly, Ramirez, Fukudome, Dempster.

      About neutral – Zambrano who is a big fan draw to boot. There are some questions now though, because of various injuries these last two years.

      Gregg is for sure a bad one.

      ?? – Soriano – Vastly out earned his keep in 07, broke even in 08, a hgue waste this year. I would say reserve judgement. This is just one bad year at this point.

      Milton Bradley – Many struggle their first year on a new team. I always pegged him for a good 2010, but now with the suspension business I don’t know.

      Many teams have overpaid and underpaid players. I don’t see a big problem here. The cubs don’t have room to add payroll for 2010 but I don’t see them needing to. This is the same team that ran away with it last year and will be in contention next year.

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  8. Lazaro Vovak says:

    imagine how much dog waste that end up in landfills per day? I personal flush my dog’s waste with a flushable dog poop bag !

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    His pitch selection has altered little; fewer fastballs per 100 pitches, more cutters in place of sliders, and some extra split-fingered pitches. His stuff gets more groundballs than fly balls which is a positive sign, but generally speaking there’s nothing here to indicate he’s going to continue giving up less than seven home runs per 100 fly balls.

    This quote is confusing (not to me, but to the author). You just stated that he’s replacing some fastballs with pitches that move, and then … comment that there’s nothing to indicate that his HR % will stay low.

    To me, it’s pretty obvious … pitches that move, particularly the pitches you mentioned which look like fastballs until late and then break downwards (sharply), are going to be harder to hit for HR’s. That’s obvious.

    It’s, IMO, rather similar to the Pineiro BB/9 and contact % discussion. He found pitches that he can throw for strikes that don;t get mashged, and his overall numbers were better. Looks to me like Big Z did the same thing. maybe he’s becoming “craftier” in his old age. In other words, maybe he’s finally learned that you cannot throw low 90s FBs by everyone like you can when they’re mid 90s FB’s.

    So, look at his other stats … [1] his K-Rate is up to where it hasn’t been in 3 years and [2] his walk rate is down, as well as [3] given up less HRs. I’m sure you can explain what 3 factors FIP is based on.

    Well, look at that, when you use throw pitches that look like fastball, but feature late-breaking movement down in the strikezone, you’re harder to hit. Who knew?

    I’m not being rude in any way, maybe trying to be humorous … but, really, I do get tired of analysts just “chalking it up to luck”, even though they themselves described something significant and repeatable that very well could have led to the improvement performance.

    Both Pineiro and Big Z learned that as velocity decreases with age, you need to shift toward late moving pitches, breaking down in the zone. Heck, Z shoulda been doing that from the start (IMO).

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    • Bobby Boden says:

      Your last statement, comparing pineiro isn’t accurate. Zambrano has a downward trending GB%, he’s actually giving up less ground balls in recent years, then he was in his younger years.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I didn’t say anything about ground balls. I did say something about late-breaking downward pitches being harder to hit for HRs … in commentary specifically addressing the 3 factors that affect FIP.

        I was simply saying that Pineiro and Zambrano’s production in 2009 isn;t just simply “luck”, but due to throwing more moving pitches instead of straight ones.

        Pineiro was successful due to high GB%, Big Z was successful not allowing HRs. I never said Big Z was becoming a groundball pitcher.

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  10. Bobby Boden says:

    Zambrano is an anomaly on 2 fronts.

    He regularly posts HR/FB rates that seem lower then they should be (compare it to his teammates, and the fact that Wrigley isn’t exactly a pitchers park). It’s my understanding that HR/FB is supposed to be more park based, and not so much in the pitchers control. This would lead us to believe that zambrano should have higher HR/FB rates, but he continues to keep them down.

    Same story with his BABIP. He regularly posts incredibly low BABIP numbers, even without the cubs having a stellar defense. His career 18.6 LD% surely plays a role, but even that, doesn’t seem to fully account for his low career .280 BABIP. An interesting side note, is that ted lilly, has been posting low BABIP’s with the exact opposite profile as zambrano (and pitching to the cubs TERRIBLE defensive OF).

    So the question is…is this finally the year that zambrano’s BABIP, and HR/FB regress to the mean, like our sabermetric minds tell us, or Zambrano doing that we (I) am missing to seemingly defy our statistics.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Good article at THT about specific pitchers having some “skill” in lower HR rates and lower BABIP stats.

      Sometimes people talk as if the pitcher has absolutely no control once the ball leaves his hand, which is confusing to me. A pitcher’s velocity + movement + command affect the type of contact that he allows. I think we overuse the word “control” and should use “influence”. The batter is not the pitcher’s puppet, but the pitcher can, and does, influence the type of swing and contact a batter makes if he has good “stuff”.

      It’s like saying that a batter has no control over the type of hits they get once the ball is struck. Well, duh … but we also know the hitter’s attributes, power, selection, etc often result in the same hitters being at the top of the league in SLG, ISO, etc.

      Whether it can be predicted (or projected) or whatever, it should be obvious that some pitchers (even some pitches) are harder to “hit well” than others. There is “contact” and there is “good contact” … we need to be deciphering between them when looking at pitcher’s influence on the batted ball. A hitter badly fooled by a good changeup or late breaking sinker may get “contact”, but likely the type of contact that the pitcher enjoys.

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