As I sat and watched Carlos Zambrano string together inning after inning against the Washington Nationals yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about the guy who we heard had major mechanic troubles at the tail end in Chicago. He was left for dead, but I think the baseball society would officially declare him “back” as of right now.
I remember hearing tales of a bad delivery that was putting too much pressure on his elbow. That ‘Big Z’ was a candidate to break down at any moment. And then he got hit and threatened to retire. That seems like forgotten history now.
From the SweetSpot article I linked:
For Big Z, this has been equal parts reinvention and renewal. The beefy right-hander’s fastball has lost yet another tick, sitting around 89 instead of 90, and as much as you can place faith in Pitch F/X’s ability to properly pigeon-hole off-speed offering, it looks like he’s relying on his splitter more now than he did in his days in Wrigleyville.
Perhaps more significantly, his ratio of ground balls to fly balls is higher than it’s been since 2003, something a lot more important for his future than a nice dip in his ratio of home runs to fly balls: If he allows fewer fly balls in the first place, it’s going to be harder for more people to hit home runs at all. Regression monkeys will no doubt despair over an FIP or xFIP a run higher than his current ERA, fearing what that portends for the future, but I’d suggest that if, two months ago, you’d get an ERA anywhere between 3.80 and 4.00 from Zambrano every fifth day, the Fish would still be down with this deal.
So he isn’t the power pitcher he was back in his heyday, back when he was the best Venezuelan import among the Cubs’ highly-touted power arms in the early Aughties. But he is the guy who has actually delivered while the other, more famous guys like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood tried and failed and broke down. He’s the one who’s still here, having pitched 500 more innings than the now-retired Wood, or 1,200 more than Prior, the man with the so-called “perfect mechanics.” He’s the guy from the 2003 Cubs with the most career WAR, though that might be seen as a case of setting the bar low.
In layman’s baseball terms, a guy who was has thrown his fastball some 66.8% of the time over the course of his career is throwing it just 40.6% of the time right now. He’s living around 89 MPH rather than the 93 MPH that he became known for.
And suddenly I began thinking of what I read in Sunday morning’s Ne w York Times. It’s quite possible that Zambrano’s arm is a mess inside but he’s hanging on a little longer for more paychecks or more glory or whatever.
The Marlins held on for a 5-3 victory yesterday afternoon. For the moment, all is on the upswing for Zambrano for the time being, and my Memorial Day burgers turned out great (Trader Joe’s patties with a special touch of seasoning and sauce). The Bullish Zambrano lives to fight another day as a member of this large baseball world fraternity we’re all part of.