Z to the pen

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.

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  1. Joe Distelheim said...

    A dissenting view to the near-unanimous criticism of this move, from a longtime Cubs watcher:

    Look at it not as a demotion/insult for Zambrano, but from what it might do for the Cubs.

    So far, the starting pitching has been fine—better than fine—except for Zambrano.  There’s some past record to assume that those starters, plus Lilly, maybe not including Silva, can continue to be respectable.

    On the other hand, the seventh-eighth inning pitching has been horrid, and there’s no reason to believe that those guys are going to get any better.  Zambrano has a better chance of getting a lead to Marmol than any of the Double-A crew the Cubs have been using.

    As for the question of a high-priced setup man: So what? That contract is a sunk cost.  Continung to throw a high-priced player into a role where he hurts you is akin to staying in a poker pot with a bad hand just because you’re already deeply invested.

    Right, Sori?

  2. MikeS said...

    There really is no upside.  They already sent the “no job is secure” message when they started taking out Soriano for defensive purposes in the 6th inning.  As for “short term,” they have alternately stated that the move is permanent or indefinite.  Zambrano also said he wants to be back in the rotation for the playoffs, ignoring both the fact that this move makes any playoffs less likely and the difficulty of pitching seven innings in one day after not doing it for five months.

  3. Silver King said...

    Oh yes, (wink) I think we should praise the Cubs for their willingness to experiment and think outside the box in a rough situation.

    (Silver King is a Cardinals fan living in Florida.)

  4. cephyn said...

    I’m so tired of the “less innings” argument. there’s an easy and obvious answer. don’t give him less innings. give him more games. Mike Marshall won the Cy in 74 by pitching over 200 innings in over 100 appearances. that should be the model for Z.

    get him in 70-80 games for 2-3 innings. let him pitch in innings 6-7-8-9. let him close out if he’s pitching well. he’s the ultimate long reliever. he could get 15 wins and 15 saves this way, and be an absolute anchor for the staff.

    this isn’t “out of the box” – it’s old school, and i dont understand why managers who played in the era this was common (piniella, hello) are so unwilling to return to it. its fear of criticism and its pathetic.

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