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June 5, 2012

Fantasy Beat

Carlos Zambrano's Resurgence

by Jason Collette

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It is already bad enough for Cubs fans that they have the second-worst record in all of baseball and are tied with the Padres for the lowest win total in the league. To add salt to the wound, Carlos Zambrano appears to once again be a relevant pitcher.

Fantasy owners were very skeptical of any kind of success for him in 2012. Dean Peterson paid $3 for him in Tout Wars NL.  Steve Gardner paid the same price for him in LABR NL, while yours truly made a $2 purchase of him in a 10-team local NL-only league. This was coming off a season in which Zambrano failed to crack the 150-inning mark for a second consecutive season and saw his strikeout rate plunge from 8.1 to 6.2 while his home run rate more than doubled from 0.49 to 1.17.  

To date, here is how 2012 compares to 2011:

YEAR

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

WHIP

GB%

ERA

FIP

2011

6.2

3.5

1.2

.298

72%

1.44

42%

4.82

4.59

2012

6.8

3.5

0.6

.236

78%

1.11

51%

2.81

3.67

There has been a slight skills change in that he is throwing more groundballs this season than he has since his best years with the Cubs. His walk rate is identical to last season while his strikeout rate is not that much better. His batting average on balls in play is considerably lower than his career .275 rate and is a career best by 16 points. He is also stranding more runners so far this season, though with a career rate of 74 percent, that could begin to normalize.  Despite what was said in the off-season, he is doing this without any increase in velocity.

Before the season started, Zambrano was quoted as saying:

"Last year, I was throwing 91-92 [mph]," he said. "In winter ball, I was throwing the ball 94-95, which is good." The difference is the result of him changing his training regimen. "I've been working out with my personal trainer," he said. "It's helped me out a lot. I feel looser."

Zambrano does indeed look more fit this season than he did in Chicago, but he is still barely throwing 91. The table below shows Zambrano’s pitch mix and the average velocity on those pitches over the past two seasons, according to his BrooksBaseball player card:

PITCH

2011 USE

2012 USE

2011 MPH

2012 MPH

4-Seam

25%

9%

90.8

90.8

2-Seam

40%

35%

90.5

90.1

Cutter

10%

22%

89.8

89.2

Slider

13%

11%

79.6

79.9

Curve

3%

4%

71.8

71.7

Changeup

0%

1%

81.4

84.1

Splitter

8%

19%

83.6

83.1

While Zambrano is throwing with the same declining velocity he had last season, he is throwing more cut fastballs and splitters than he has four-seamers, which is a smart move for him considering his declining velocity, as seen here on his player card:

Carlos Zambrano's Velocity

He has also adjusted his release points on the mound, making a slight shift on the pitching rubber and appearing to be more consistent in using a lower arm slot this season.

Carlos Zambrano's Horizontal Release Point

Carlos Zambrano's Vertical Release Point

Seventy-six percent of the pitches Zambrano has thrown in 2012 have been sinkers, cutters, or split-finger fastballs. That helps explain the increased groundball rate this season, which is a bit ironic considering he moved from the not-so-friendly pitching confines of Wrigley Field to a much more forgivingly spacious indoor ballpark in Miami.

The results from Carlos Zambrano are better, but this is not due to any rediscovered velocity. He has become a crafty veteran who realizes his days of dominating with a fastball are over, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at batters while relying more on movement than velocity to get results.  His BABIP is 43 points lower than any other starting pitcher on the Miami staff this season, though, so some adjustment is in order.  He has won four of his last six decisions for fantasy owners, though,  and outside of an ugly outing against Colorado, he has been rather effective for most of the season.

Zambrano currently has four wins, a 2.81 ERA, and a 1.11 WHIP.  Simply put, it is an opportune time for you to cash in your profits and see if you can use Zambrano to plug another hole on your roster.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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