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Zambrano and Volstad Swap Homes

The Cubs shipped off a pitcher yesterday, but it wasn’t Matt Garza. Instead, the sent Carlos Zambrano to Miami in exchange for Chris Volstad. Neither player provided much fantasy value in 2011, but could a change of scenery provide a boost to one of the two right-handers?

Zambrano was a fantasy asset as recently as 2010, when he posted a 3.33 ERA and 11 wins while striking out 117 in just 129.2 IP. Of course the season wasn’t perfect, by any means. The sparkling ERA was well below Zambrano’s 3.71 FIP and his 1.45 WHIP was pretty weak. Not to mention the fact that you aren’t typically happy with less than 130 IP out of a starting pitcher. And 2011 was much worse – the ERA blew up to a rotund 4.82, the strike outs and wins dropped, and that was before Zambrano had a clubhouse explosion and threatened to retire.

Now, at 30 years old (he should be like 35, right? How is he only 30? I guess that is what happens when guys come up at 20), Zambrano gets a fresh start with a new team in Miami. As Jack Moore pointed out, Zambrano was the rare case of a player actually, literally quitting on his team. You often here analysts talk about a player needing a change of scenery, and Zambrano may have needed that change more than anyone.

Getting out of Chicago should provide more than just psychological help. Wrigley is a slight hitters park and extremely HR-friendly to left-handed hitters. The new park in Miami is a bit of an unknown, but based on the dimensions, it should be a pitchers park, and certainly less of a power-haven than Chicago’s North Side. In addition, the Marlins scored 29 fewer runs than the Cubs last year, but the addition of Jose Reyes and a bounce-back from Hanley Ramirez should provide improved run support compared to the Cubs for Zambrano and more opportunities to put up W’s.

None of this is to say that we are suddenly going to see Zambrano turn into an ace, but expecting a sub-4.00 ERA, with decent strike out totals (7.5 K/9?), and double-digit wins, is not out of the question at all. Zambrano will likely continue to suffer from a high WHIP, but he’ll be worth a flyer in NL-only or deep mixed leagues.

Volstad, of course, is making the opposite change. He is going from a pitchers’ park to a hitters’ park and will likely see limited run support (while the Marlins added Reyes, the Cubs lost Aramis Ramirez). Volstad, though, is only 25-years-old and his brutal 4.89 ERA was much worse than his 4.32 FIP (and 3.64 xFIP). The potential for a significant improvement is there.

The major issue for this move for Volstad is his HR rate. He has been unimpressive in this area for his career (1.11 HR/9 career 1.25 in 2011) and the move north will not help him at all. His road HR/9 was 1.50 in 2011, and now he is moving his home games from a park that suppresses HR to a park that can be awfully homer-happy, particularly for lefties, who were a real problem for Volstad in 2011.

Volstad makes sense for the Cubs – he is young, cheap, and has averaged more than 160 IP per season the last three years – but he is far less intriguing for a fantasy team. The impressive xFIP is going to lead a lot of statistically-minded fantasy players and analysts to see Volstad as a sleeper heading into 2011, and he should see an improvement in luck (an increase in LOB%, slight decrease in BABIP). But I am not buying. The change in luck couldeasily be counteracted by an increase in HR, and his ERA will likely come in above 4.00 again. He isn’t a big strike out guy and the wins likely won’t be particularly plentiful for the Cubs this year. Is he a sleeper? I suppose so – but I won’t be the one to wake him.