Fresh off the presses, the Chicago Cubs have decided to move Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs incumbent ace and opening day starter, to the bullpen, while guaranteeing Carlos Silva a spot in the rotation in Z’s place! Okay so it’s somewhat old news, but we here at THT feel a duty to inform the readers of the most important news around baseball and give our own takes to the situation. Here is a good press release of the news, with some quotes from Lou Piniella and Carlos Zambrano.
The bulk of the online analysis community has not been very complimentary of the move. From the level headed Jack Moore at FanGraphs, who makes the simple and correct observation that giving more innings to a worse pitcher is generally not a good idea, to the not so level headed but hilarious mb21 at AnotherCubsBlog, who makes the speculative observation that Lou Piniella is probably an idiot, there are very few words to be found in support of this decision.
There is, of course, much justification for that reaction among the analysts. Although Zambrano has had a rough start to the season, he has had a long history of success and durability in the rotation that should not be mitigated by 4 games worth of performance. Conversely, although Carlos Silva has had an excellent start to the season, he has had a long history of terribleness in the rotation that should not be mitigated by 3 games worth of performance. Going forward, Z is likely a better pitcher than Silva, and given that a starter is almost always going to be more valuable than a reliever due to the difference in innings pitched, intentionally giving more value to a worse pitcher seems kinda insane.
However, try to see it from the Cubs point of view. Zambrano is being paid 19 million a year and has a 7.45 ERA so far. Their bullpen has 4 blown saves and has an ERA over 6. As a team, they are playing .375 ball and are already 3 games back of the amazing and sexy Cardinals. This team needs a kick start and moving a struggling and overpaid starter to a struggling pen has a couple of potentially positive ramifications. For one, it sends a message to the rest of the 145 million dollar payrolled team that nobody is safe from demotion just because of your price tag. Aramis Ramirez has an OBP below .200 and he needs to play well for the team to have a chance at competition. Furthermore, by moving one of your best pitchers to the bullpen, it gives the team a better chance to hold leads – something that they have not been able to do this season – and that may provide a boost in moral to a team that is on the brink of falling behind the Astros.
In the long term Z in the bullpen instead of the rotation is a bad move for the team. They will win fewer games over the course of 162 by giving fewer innings to Zambrano. However, if Lou thinks that a short term realignment might help the team, I can see some justification for that.