Mid-Year Look-In At Carlos Zambrano

During Spring Training, I received a number of emails from readers asking why I was so down on Carlos Zambrano. I proceeded to write a full explanation of my opinion of Zambrano. While most fantasy “cheat sheets” had Zambrano in the top 5-7 for starting pitchers, I said that he didn’t have the numbers to back up that kind of ranking. Up until a couple weeks ago, Zambrano was proving me correct. Since June 6 (one start removed from a 6 ER outing), though, Zambrano has 4 wins and a 1.43 ERA.

In April, I said that Zambrano had the potential to become an excellent starting pitcher, but that he needed to make some changes. He had good strikeout and ground ball rates, but he was walking far too many batters to be able to maintain a high level of success.

Until his start on June 6, Zambrano was walking 4.15 batters per game: the second worst mark in his career as a starter (2006 was worse). This year, though, it was finally showing in his surface numbers. To make matters worse, Zambrano was only striking out 6 batters per game. I have to admit, I poked a little fun at most of the guys who took him in my leagues.

Since then, Zambrano has put up much better numbers. His strikeout rate is through the roof: 10.27 K/9. It’s not much of a surprise that he started striking out more batters; the real shocker has come in his much improved walk rate. In his last five starts, Zambrano has a 3.10 BB/9. If he pairs that with his normal K rate of around 8.00, his K/BB would be 2.58. That would not only be the highest of his career, but would most likely propel him into the top 10-12 starters in baseball.

Is the walk rate for real, though? I am a bit skeptical. Let’s look at the breakdown of his five starts that people have been applauding him for.
June 6 | 6.2 IP | 3 BB
June 11 | 8 IP | 1 BB
June 16 | 9 IP | 5 BB
June 22 | 8 IP | 1 BB
June 27 | 6 IP | 3 BB

His 1 walk starts were great, but if we only look at the other 3, his BB/9 would be 4.56. So are we really trying to say that Zambrano has turned it around based on two starts in which he showed good control? Last year, in the worst control showing of his career, he still managed 3 games with just 1 walk (7 IP each) and 5 games with just 2 walks (shortest was 7 IP). Call me a cynic, but two games in June doesn’t quite let Zambrano off the hook.

While it is certainly possible Zambrano is beginning to learn better control, I just don’t see it. First, because we’re looking at a 5 game sample, and second, because 3 of them weren’t even very good.

His season line looks like this right now: 7.60 K/9 | 3.80 BB/9 | 45.5% GB. His Ks will probably go over 8.00 and his BBs might get closer to 3.50, but I honestly don’t see him doing much better than that. If someone in your league thinks Zambrano has “found his old stuff” or is “the Zambrano of Old again,” deal him. If you don’t own him—and hopefully you don’t unless you bought really low on him in May—don’t try to get him. There are much better options available.

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