This Monday, Carlos Zambrano will be giving us a sliver of a reason to actually watch because he will be starting!!! (And for those who haven't been watching, neither have I; the TV rating have been collapsing just like our record has been.)
So Zambrano will be starting, which givers hopers some chance to hope and haters a chance to hate... some more. According to the probable pitchers section on the official Cubs.com site:
This will be Zambrano's first start since that fateful June 25 game when he threw a tantrum, was sent home, and eventually underwent treatment for anger issues. He will be limited to 75-80 pitches. His velocity has been better.Zambrano, to many, has been a disappointment since last season. Of course, people who thought Carlos Zambrano was disappointing in 2009 are often the ignorant type who use wins to gauge a starter's quality. His 2009 season actually gave many of us a glimmer of hope that he was indeed still a quality pitcher.
In reality, Zambrano had been an average pitcher for years. Since 2006, he has had average-ish xFIPs and high LOB percentages, meaning his low-to-excellent ERAs and high wins were functions of luck, and likely little else.
Let's look at the statistics for Cub Carlos here:
xFIP LOB% ERA
2002 4.15 72.8 3.66
2003 3.82 73.0 3.11
2004 3.88 79.1 2.75
2005 3.54 75.0 3.29
2006 4.20 75.6 3.41
2007 4.62 74.9 3.95
2008 4.45 73.4 3.91
2009 4.27 71.9 3.77
2010 4.33 66.9 5.61
League average for LOB% is usually around 70.5% to 72.0%. Really, anything outside of that little normal-luck range is pretty much going to come back to earth. Carlos Zambrano's career LOB% is 73.9%, meaning he has -- more than likely -- been pretty lucky. There are cases, however very rare, where a pitcher performs better out of the stretch and in turn can have some rare LOB% "skill."
Either way, his current LOB of 66.9% will not and cannot continue. Several of my colleagues -- whose opinions I trust and whose perspectives are very valuable to me -- have suggested that Carlos is broken and has been broken for several years. This possibility makes 2009 an aberration of improvement. I however, see a lower LOB% (one within our realistic range, no less) and an improved xFIP. Therefore, I think that Zambrano is not broken, but neither is he the next Cy Young incarnate (who was left-handed anyway).
This year is a different story though. I honesetly think that Z's 2010 campaign has been sabotaged -- read: sabotaged -- by the whims and reactions of a Cubs regime that does not employ statistics to cool the fickle flames of the human heart.
I think Carlos is still promising. He is young yet and will be a decent-to-good pitcher, if he's given more than 40-ish innings to prove himself (which is all he received as a starter thus far in 2010). I think he will be okay; however, we still have to be concerned by some elements of his game -- namely his steadily decreasing velocity. In his peak in 2004 and 2005, Zambrano's fastball was around 93 mph. That velocity has since dropped to a flat 91 mph. For some pitchers, 2 mph and mean the difference between a Hall of Fame career and no career. For Zambrano, I believe it is the difference between an All-Star and an innings-eater. I think that's okay. I think 4.33 xFIP is okay too. It's about average, but with a 66.9% LOB, we can expect it to become above average very soon.
In summation: the state of Carlos Zambrano is not as desperate as the press wants us to think. The press wants a villain -- because villains are easily made and they are paper-sellers. But if we give Carlos Zambrano a chance, I think Z will be Big.