Volstad Heads to Chicago

Let the Theo Epstein overhaul continue.

Matt Garza might have been the most popular name tossed around this off-season in Wrigleyville, but Carlos Zambrano was the first Chicago Cubs pitcher to be traded. After three injury riddled season — and a ton of headaches — the Cubs elected to deal the sole survivor of the Dusty Baker era to the Miami Marlins. In return, the  Cubs get 25-year-old Chris Volstad. While Volstad hasn’t established himself as a top of the line pitcher in the majors, this deal might just work out in the Cubs’ favor.

Chicago had lots of reasons to deal Zambrano. While his frequent mound blowups and inability to control his emotions likely fed into the decision, Zambrano’s contract and his declining performance were more likely the main reasons behind the move.

Over the past two seasons, in fact, Zambrano has barely been better than Volstad.

*This isn’t entirely fair. If you include 2009, Zambrano out-WARs Volstad 6.8 to 3.4. Volstad was awful that season, however, and has improved since. Zambrano has been in decline since 2009, which is why I compared their past two seasons.

While Zambrano is better at preventing home runs and racking up strikeouts, he’s only thrown 275.1 innings in the past two seasons. Some of that is due to injuries, some is due to team-imposed suspensions and some is due to an ill-fated move to the bullpen during the 2010 season. Plus, he hasn’t shown the same durability he flashed earlier in his career — when he had five straight seasons of at least 200 innings pitched.

Volstad might not strike out many batters, but he limits walks much better than Zambrano. Volstad hasn’t been the most durable pitcher, either — but he’s still thrown 60-plus more innings than Zambrano during the past two seasons. Their ERAs might not show it, but Volstad has been nearly as good since 2010. Zambrano’s lead in FIP is a slim 4.17 to 4.33, and Volstad actually posted a superior xFIP (4.05) in that period.

Volstad’s ability to outperform his ERA points to a trend for Cubs pitchers this upcoming season. All five of the Cubs’ current starters — Volstad, Travis Wood, Randy Wells, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza — posted stronger xFIPs when compared to their ERAs. Four out of the five — Wells being the outlier — posted a lower FIP, as well. Volstad’s acquisition marks the second pitcher Epstein has acquired this off-season with this statistical trait. Perhaps Epstein thinks Volstad’s peripherals are more indicative of his talent than his ERA suggests.

Zambrano — who is owed $19 million this season — will come cheap for the Marlins, as the Cubs are rumored to be paying a significant portion of his salary. At the same time, Volstad will be entering his first year of arbitration and won’t be due to receive a significant raise. He’ll also be under team control for two more seasons, while Zambrano is a free agent after 2012. The Cubs still will be paying Zambrano far more than Volstad next season, but that matters little to Epstein, who inherited Big Z’s bad contract.

All told, the Cubs and Marlins swapped fifth starters. Zambrano just hasn’t been all that good — or consistent –over the past couple of seasons. And he caused huge headaches for his coaching staff and the Cubs’ front office. Volstad might offer little upside, but he’s been nearly as good as Zambrano — minus the drama. At the very least, Epstein spends less money on Tylenol this season. At best, he also gets the better pitcher.



Print This Post



Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Ajay
Guest
Ajay
4 years 5 months ago

Zambrano also has 2.5 Hitting WAR over the last 3 years, the smallest annual total coming when he was predominantly a reliever in 2010. Volstad has 0.2.

Ajay
Guest
Ajay
4 years 5 months ago

maybe not predominantly a reliever in 2010, but yeah.

Jon
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Should be fun to watch Ozzie and Zambrano get along.

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 5 months ago

Hanley Ramirez will help the club-house dynamic too.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
4 years 5 months ago

I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not, but Ozzie and Zambrano are actually pretty good friends, bot heavily involved in the Venezuelan Winter League, and even work together on charity events.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 5 months ago

Yea, because being buddies and doing commercials and seeing each other every day under extremely stressful situations is the same thing. how many times do best friends end up hating each other after they’re roommates? Now imagine they both have explosive personalities and their performance as roommates is heavily scrutinized.

James Gentile
Member
4 years 5 months ago

it’s a madhouse! A MAD HOUSE!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idsxgLjGXGI

steex
Member
steex
4 years 5 months ago

I see your Heston and raise you Anthrax.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGHsxMqpL0c

Adam
Guest
Adam
4 years 5 months ago

Maybe the should do a “The Franchise” with the Miami Marlins this year.

Crazy Benny
Guest
Crazy Benny
4 years 5 months ago

“Sole survivor of the Dusty Baker era”

Don’t forget Kerry Wood.

JayBandit
Guest
JayBandit
4 years 5 months ago

I don’t think Kerry technically counts, because he has already left and came back.

Tony
Guest
Tony
4 years 5 months ago

then count Ryan Dempster, who was there in 2004, 2005 and 2006

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
4 years 5 months ago

Kerry Wood’s arm didn’t survive the Dusty Baker era, though.

CircleChange11
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Zambrano was basically allowed to throw tantrums until his performance wasn’t that good. The Cubs got more of what they tolerated.

Pinella was especially absent in team control.

When Z is performing well and throwing tantrums he’s “fiery”. When he’s not he’s a headache.

With Ozzie, Zambrano might actually have a manager he respects.

Everyone on the club loved Big Z when he was punching Barrett and destroying water coolers. When he was yelling at Lee and getting himself thrown out of the game, not so much.

Sosa was pretty much the same deal, as is Soriano. Once the performance decreased they became intolerable. I suppose the same could be said of Rickey Henderson.

I think we’ll see an improved Z in 2012, but maybe just for that season. Can’t wait for him to pitch against the Cubs. Ozzie and Z return to Chicago together. Should be an interesting week.

Matt Trueblood
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

You painted some very different guys with a very crude brush. Sosa had no problems of temper, he was merely selfish. Soriano is an EXCELLENT teammate and a hard worker in physical aspects, just not a student of the game. Get your facts straight, or it’ll start to look like you view all Latino clubhouse misfits as the same guy, and that might not look good for you.

Joel
Guest
Joel
4 years 5 months ago

I agree Matt. Soriano may be intolerable to watch play baseball, but he has handled the fans and media well, while avoiding any off the field issues.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 5 months ago

If I wanted to say that all Latin players were hotheads, I would have said it. I didn’t want to say that, so I didn’t. You perceived that.

I said that the players had the “same deal”, where they were loved/adored while they were playing well, and then when they weren’t they became primarily known for their . That was the “fact” I was talking about.

I’m saying fans/media are fickle, not that Latin players are all hotheads. Each player pretty much has the same personality for their career. The fans/media view of their personality was affected by the player’s performance.

I’m not representing my own opinion or feeling, but merely describing how perceptions changed based on performance changes.

JohnnyComeLately
Guest
JohnnyComeLately
4 years 5 months ago

I still don’t see how you group Soriano in with the other two. His teammates still like him, which is something Z and Sosa couldn’t say. I’ve never seen a Soriano outburst, unlike Z and Sosa, and from everything I’ve read, he’s handled his diminished performance with class, not with outbursts. Even though he takes a lot of the blame from the fans for his terrible contract, it’s hardly his fault and he’s been nothing but gracious to the city.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 5 months ago

Soriano is different than Zambrano and Sosa in some ways, particularly no outbursts or cheating.

Soriano is very likeable. He and my son had a great player-fan moment before a game a few years ago.

But, in 2007 and before you didn’t hear things said about Soriano’s effort, free swinging, slider chasing, absent minded defense, and/or polite ways of saying he’s stupid or apathetic.

He’s been the same guy all along. He’s just not the same player.

Maybe that’s the way to say it …. these guys were always who they were as guys, they just became different players. Fans/media allow the change in player to affect their perception of the guy.

I think of Soriano the same today as I did of him in 2007 as a personality. His performance is reduced, but he’s the same dude he’s always been.

BurleighGrimes
Guest
BurleighGrimes
4 years 5 months ago

I don’t really understand Big Z’s 2013 vesting option. If there is any chance of the contract vesting, the Cubs did well to just get rid of the merest possibility of having to pay Zambrano for two more seasons.

Matt Trueblood
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

It vests if he is healthy and finishes top-four in Cy Young voting. The option’s a non-issue, then, because you can certainly handle paying through the nose for an extra year if both of those things are true. They won’t be, of course.

shthar
Guest
shthar
4 years 5 months ago

only 2 guys left after 5 years?

We really are cheering for clothes.

Matt Trueblood
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Not uncommon. Of the Philadelphia Phillies of 2006, only Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley remain. Player turnover is rampant in the league today, and often gets blown out of proportion if a team has played poorly and shakes things up.

hk
Guest
hk
4 years 5 months ago

Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels were all on the 2006 Phillies.

Ari Collins
Guest
Ari Collins
4 years 5 months ago

Sox and Yankees both have four left from ’06: Cano, Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera, Youkilis, Ortiz, Beckett, Lester. (You could count Pedroia if you wanted, but he was a Sept. callup and had 98 PAs that year.)

I would bet that a high turnover rate correlates with wins.

Ronin
Guest
Ronin
4 years 5 months ago

Player turnover has been rampant throughout the history of the game. The causes may have changed a bit but rosters have always been in flux.

Ronin
Guest
Ronin
4 years 5 months ago

An example 1927 Yankees vs 1931 Yankees only 5 players that appeared with the Yankees in both years.

Adam S
Guest
Adam S
4 years 5 months ago

Wasn’t Sean Marshall the first Cubs pitcher to be traded this off-season?

Royo
Guest
Royo
4 years 5 months ago

Can durability really be flashed?

Confucius
Guest
Confucius
4 years 5 months ago

Can eternal love be fleeting?

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
4 years 5 months ago

I think it’s good for the Cubs that they got rid of Zambrano, but there is no way Volstad is better than Zambrano. Volstad appears to be a pitcher whose ERA is always higher than his xFIP, due to some unexplained variables still missing from the xFIP calculation. Moving to a park that punishes hard contact will not help him at all. Unless he has a lucky BABIP year, I don’t see his actual ERA ever approaching 4.

Zambrano on the other hand is a pitcher who has outperformed his xFIP every year but one (2011). He possesses some skill that allows him to do this. Perhaps he lost it last year. But if he didn’t, then he could be much more than a #5 starter. It sounds like the Marlins will only have to pay him $3-$4 million this year and then he is gone. If they feel they are close to being a playoff team, then this move makes perfect sense.

Volstad’s ceiling looks to be 2 WAR. Zambrano’s ceiling looks to be 4 WAR. Could 2 wins be the difference between the Marlins making the playoffs vs. missing out? It could and so this is a risk I believe worth taking.

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
4 years 5 months ago

The unexplainable variables missing are: (1) luck and randomness 95%, (2) pitching from the stretch or “losing it” with men on base, 4.99%, and (3) ability to limit homers per flyball, .01%, unless Dave Righetti is your pitching coach.

Whoops, I guess they are explainable.

I kid.

Ronin
Guest
Ronin
4 years 5 months ago

Exactly. Remember anytime there is any fuzziness or error percieved in a metric it is due to luck and randomness (UZR anyone?).

I kid too.

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
4 years 5 months ago

@Ronin. Yup.

Colm
Guest
Colm
4 years 5 months ago

Is it reasonable to cite “Volstad’s ability to outperform his ERA”?
Would it not be more accurate to say that, historically, he has under-performed his peripherals?

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
4 years 5 months ago

He has under-resulted his process.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
4 years 5 months ago

I think he is trying to say that he has the potential to outperform his past ERA, which would be roughly equivalent to your statement. As a Cubs fan, I like that Epstein and Co. are showing a willingness to take a shot at such “gambles”.

wpDiscuz