Monday, January 26, 2009

Champion Rating: Carlos Zambrano

It turns out some radio guy in Indianapolis has already written the Cubs' 2009 season off. He analyzed the Cubs using the "Super Scout" method of determining whether a player is a "champion."

"...a new GM [for the Orioles] told all of the scouts that he wanted nothing but players who the scout could envision playing for a world championship team. If the scouts saw a good player, but thought the kid would never contribute to a champion, the Orioles would pass."

The conclusion of the blog was that the Cubs do not have enough "champions" and would therefore fold in the playoffs once again.

Since there is still some dead time (defined as: time when baseball is not being played), I thought I would look at the key players on the Cubs and give them my own Champion Rating and see where we stand.

It will not be scientific by any stretch of the imagination, but it will try to encompass both the players' past statistical performance, former playoff experience, and the ever-popular "intangibles." General Managers and coaches love "intangibles" with players. There is something to a player's mental makeup and approach being key in baseball, but always be wary when the first thing said about a new acquisition is that they like his intangibles. That is usually code for: He is not very good, but he hustles.

I'll still make other posts not relating to the Championship Rating, but let's be honest, until the sale of the Cubs is final or they actually start playing again, there isn't a heck of a lot relating to the Cubs to discuss.

WARNING: Until now, I have purposefully tried to stay away from raw statistics as much as possible, because most people's eyes tend to glaze over when faced with a mountain of numbers. However, in this case, it seems impossible to analyze without career data, so I apologize in advance.

Carlos Zambrano

We start right off with a fairly difficult call. Clearly, Zambrano has been huge for the Cubs as they have finally managed to develop a starter from their own farm system who does not have repeated arm injuries. Carlos has been a horse for the Cubs, pitching 200+ innings for five straight years, ending last year when he pitched "only" 188 innings.

The question of whether he has been an ace-level starter is harder to determine. From 2003 to 2006, Zambrano averaged almost 15 wins with a 3.13 ERA. However, in 2007 and 2008, he still managed to average 16 wins, but his ERA shot up to 3.93. Conversely, he averaged 192 strikeouts per year from '03 to '06, but only 153.5 in the last two years.

Could it be that all of the innings are having a negative impact on his performance? Possibly, but there is another coincidence in those years. From 2003 to 2006, Zambrano's salary averaged $2.7 million. In 2007, his salary jumped to $12.4 million, and then again to $16 million in 2008.

So are we looking at a guy who may have been gutting out a sore arm from about 1,200 innings of work, or a guy who has become a bit complacent after hitting his big payday? This is where the intangibles come in.

Zambrano is a competitor, sometimes to his own detriment. He gets inside his own head and loses focus, starts to scream into his glove, throws coolers around and breaks bats over his knee. But he has actually calmed down a bit in the last couple of years under Piniella (after his fight with Michael Barrett in the dugout, of course).

Zambrano was the victim of the Keystone Cops routine performed by the Cubs infield during Game 2 of last year's NLDS. By my count, he had already recorded five would-be outs in the 2nd inning before the floodgates opened and the runs started scoring. Before that, he had blown away the Dodgers in the first inning, including a strikeout of Manny Ramirez where Manny looked overmatched (which doesn't happen often).

Unfortunately, the rest of Zambrano's playoff performances aren't exactly stellar. Overall he is 0-2 with a 4.34 ERA. These are not numbers that demand the ball in a Game 1 situation, and hence why Piniella most likely gave the nod last year to Ryan Dempster, who had frankly outperformed Zambrano all year long, but especially so at the end where Zambrano had one phenomenal game (the no-hitter) sandwiched amongst some god-awful outings.

However, on the plus side, his playoff strikeout-to-walk ratio was almost 3.5 to 1 while his career regular season K:BB ratio is less than 2 to 1. Of course, sample size of playoffs games is too small to compare directly to career statistics, so that could mean nothing, or it could mean that Carlos gets a little bit more adrenalin flowing in the post-season and starts to miss a few more bats.

I also gave Zambrano credit for not imploding after the 2nd Inning From Hell. He went on and gave up only 2 more runs in the game (one of which was allowed by Neal Cotts but charged to Zambrano). That said a lot to me about Zambrano's will and desire to win, which make him someone I can envision on a championship team.

I give Zambrano the benefit of the doubt that desire or effort were not the problems last year. He does have problems staying focused, and his performance in the clutch is not MVP-worthy so I'll give him a Champion Rating of 7 out of 10.

Next up: Ryan Dempster

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Apparently, the O's have abandoned this philosphy for the last 15 years. I read Jim Russo's book years ago. I'm not sure the quote is accuate.

tmcginnis said...

The quote is actually a summary from the Indy guy's blog. It would seem that the Orioles probably do not follow this philosophy anymore, or they try to follow it, but fail miserably, or they follow it completely, and it is a bad philosophy.

But I found it interesting to look at the Cubs using that method to see if I conclude anything different than the dude in Indy.

chester said...

Don't forget Z's eye surgery. Hyundai ya'll!

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