Don’t Give Up On…Carlos Zambrano

“Don’t Give Up On…” will be a weekly feature this season, highlighting players who have proven that they’re better than their current slumps would suggest.

No, Chicago Cubs righty Carlos Zambrano is not an ace. And yes, the Atlanta Braves chewed Big Z up and spit him out like a piece of Juicy Fruit that lost its flavor. The 28 year-old surrendered six hits, two walks and eight runs while retiring just four Braves on opening day. But that doesn’t mean that you should make him a scape(billy)goat, trading him for fifty cents on the dollar or outright releasing him.

Granted, there were reasons to expect Zambrano to regress in 2010 even prior to his grisly outing. There was a half-run difference between his 2009 ERA (3.77) and his expected FIP (4.27). His punch out rate climbed back to over eight batters per nine frames after a couple years of decline, but he issued 4.15 BB/9 and benefitted from a low 5.6 home run per fly ball rate (Zambrano’s career rate is 9.1 percent, and the average for pitchers is around 10-12 percent). With more fly balls finding the seats, Zambrano looks like a low-four’s ERA pitcher.

But, owners might be making knee-jerk reactions in giving Z the boot. According to his ESPN player page, Zambrano is owned in 69 percent of fantasy leagues. Following Z’s F-caliber performance against Atlanta, 8.9 percent of his owners let him loose.

Coming into the season, Zambrano was projected for 4.08 FIP by CHONE. Using the CHONE projections available here on the site, I calculated the FIP of all starters to see who matched up with Zambrano. Here are some starters projected for similar FIPs, as well as their ownership percentage in fantasy leagues (from ESPN):

As you can see, six of these starters are owned in all leagues, and Lilly and Blanton (both on the DL) are owned in the vast majority of leagues. When they return to action, their ownership percentages will likely creep up a bit. In “real life” baseball, Big Z is a burden on Chicago’s payroll. Compared to his peers in fantasy, however, Zambrano actually seems undervalued.

If Carlos Zambrano is the best starter on your team in a shallow league, you’re in trouble. But he’s still plenty useful in all formats. One start, no matter how ugly, shouldn’t weigh too heavily in the minds of fantasy owners. There’s a tendency to over-analyze this time of year, trying to infer too much from too small a sample size. Getting caught up in the hyperbole and making a snap decision is a good way to hurt your team in the long run.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

20 Responses to “Don’t Give Up On…Carlos Zambrano”

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  1. DonCoburleone says:

    He’s totally mental… In the 1st inning there was a soft grounder that wound up as a hit along with 2 bloop singles. When luck starts turning on Zambrano he gets all flustered. He hurries up his mechanics and starts throwing up meatballs (the one he gave Heyward).

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  2. malacoda says:

    I was happy to drop Big Zero right into free agency. Anybody that immediately blows a 3-0 lead and gives up 8 er on opening day lacks what I need on my team. He was a late round pick for me, he can be somebody else’s problem. I am going to go cuddle with my Buehrle stat line now.

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  3. dudley says:

    *Love* this column, as well as the analysis. i have Zambrano on one team, and yeah, it sucked having him destroy my ERA and WHIP for the foreseeable future, but, going forward, he should be a decent source of Ws, Ks, and not hurt the ERA or WHIP. at the very least, in a format where you’re limited to 1,250 IP, you could use him for favorable matchups against low-scoring NL teams.

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  4. dudley says:

    the thing people get caught up in, is that the numbers don’t have any memory. cutting him now won’t erase that terrible opening day start. that’s a sunk cost. what you should care about is how good or bad will he be over the rest of the season. on that basis, i’d take him over buerhle and his miniscule K/9 rate any day of the week.

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    • md0 says:

      As someone who dropped big Z, it may not erase the horrible outing but it sure felt good.

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      • Jason B says:

        …at least until he had a good start his second turn through the rotation. I do enjoy taking advantage of owners who overreact to their players’ slow starts, it presents a fantastic opportunity to buy low on the Jay Bruces and Carlos Zambranos of the world…

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  5. Scott says:

    Malacoda, you playing in a 6 team league? Zambrano shouldn’t be a “late” round pick in any respectable sized league. And he especially shouldn’t be FA fodder.

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  6. EE says:


    IDK about that, I am in a pretty competitive league and picked up big Z at ~pick 200. For some reason people hate him, they think hes old and done with. I guarantee if you ask 100 knowledgeable fantasy players (who did not own Z) how old he was less than 10% would guess his age or younger. I love his consistency and durability, but you have to take the good with the bad and hes capable of a lot of bad from time to time. He’s the #6 on my squad and I love it, granted he burnt me last week.

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  7. B N says:

    Definitely a useful guy, no doubt. While his WHIP is pedestrian, the guy still strikes guys out, and his team has enough offense to make his good starts turn into wins. I’d take him over more than few of these guys. I mean, a guy like Sanchez (and I like Sanchez) is likely to have a similar ERA with a few more K’s but less innings and worse WHIP. Z didn’t fall to me this year, as apparently others think similarly, but if he becomes available midway through I’d be happy to have him. Last year I made a trade for him midseason that put me in a playoff run. Hopefully this will be the same.

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  8. malacoda says:

    No Scott, I am not in a 6 team league. This is the 12th year of this very experienced league, and I was the guy dumb enough to draft Big Zero. Somebody else has picked him up, and that is fine with me. I won this league last year, and I am in first place now.

    I find that more often than not, I make the right decisions early. You guys can hold on to him if you want. I guess we didn’t watch the same game.

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  9. fothead says:

    Too early for dropping anyone like Z. I love when people overreact this early in the season. Here’s to hoping the guy who owns Javy Vazquez in my league feels that way this morning!

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  10. I’ve got Z and I’m holding out for some production. He spit the bit on opening day (which he’s prone to do if you see past openers he’s pitched) but I expect his numbers to be around his averages come seasons end. If you watched his first game, you’d have seen that he allowed a couple of bloops and a bleeder – all of which could have been played. A couple of inches either way and he’s out of that first inning and maybe we’re not having this discussion now. Baseball’s funny that way. That’s why it’s not a great idea to make rash decisions based on a bad start or two – especially if you saw how the guy actually pitched.

    EE: I too was shocked to see that he’s just 29. Seems like he’s been around for ever. Maybe the increased maturity (he claimed to have gained since the birth of his baby girl) will lead to less melt downs. Who knows.

    FYI I drafted him in the 10th round of a 12 team keeper league, where many good pitchers were kept and many more flew off of the boards early. I didn’t have any more picks available between rounds 10 – 15, and I needed an arm, so Z got the nod. Z was not a guy that I wanted, but at the time he felt like the best option available. I’ll take him as my #5.

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  11. Melkmizzle says:

    QS with 9 K’s today @ cinci. Any league that this guy is unowned in is a weak league.

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  12. malacoda says:

    I watched him in this game as well. He didn’t look good. He had a throwing error, a wild pitch, his fastball topped out at 90, and if not for a couple of amazing defensive web gems it would have been worse for him, but it worked out. I replaced him with Marcum last week, we’ll see if I regret it.

    As far as the first game, yeah there were a couple of bloops and bleeders….that went 450+ feet over the wall.

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  13. @Malacoda: Right. But first came the bloops and bleeder, which extended the inning and put an already geeked up Z on the hot seat.

    Please do let us know how Marcum works out for you. I hear the AL East is a pretty light on hitting…

    I’ll take what Mel said one step further: If Z’s available on waivers and you’re reading this, you really should step up to a more competitive league.

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  14. @Malacoda… FYI I was just watching highlights from the game. He finished his 7th and last inning by striking out Drew Stubbs, looking, with a moving fastball that clocked at 94mph.

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  15. malacoda says:

    So far Marcum has worked out well, and he has pitched before in the AL East with success. If you don’t know who he is, maybe you are the one who should join a more competitive league. Zambrano was picked up after I dropped him, and I am glad. I am trying to win after all, I want him wreck other teams, not mine.

    Maybe Zambrano hit 94 late in that game, but he sure wasn’t in the 5 innings I watched. Striking out Stubbs is no feat anyway. Big Zero sucked again today, 3 walks and 11 total baserunners in 5 ip.

    I am in a very competitive league as I stated before, and it is in its 12th year. Take some advice from somebody who wins often, and abandon the U.S.S. Zambrano.

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  16. B N says:

    Uh oh. Looks like Lou Pinella didn’t read this article… He dropped Zambrano for Silva. That man is so not going to the championships this year.

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