Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why I Don't Hate Zambrano in the Bullpen

And I thought Cubdom couldn't go more apeshit than when Mark DeRosa was traded.  Holy uproar, Batman.

Lou Piniella announced that the Cubs were moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen to make room for Ted Lilly, and the resulting firestorm across Twitter and the Cubs blogosphere hasn't burned more intensely since Gaius Marius left BCB in a blaze of glory.

The consensus of what I have read so far indicates that the Cubs have made the dumbest, most unspeakable move since they let Greg Maddux walk away for nothing. Let's have a peek:
I don't hate the move... yet.

So why does everyone else hate it so much?

Zambrano won't buy into the move because he's got such a big ego.

So far, Zambrano is at least saying all the right things.  He doesn't want to be in the bullpen, but he realizes that they need help there and he is willing to do whatever Lou thinks is best to help the team win. 

The thing is, the bullpen is such a huge disaster that the task of single-handedly making it not just respectable, but actually good and effective is of Herculean proportions.  That does not sound like a job for Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny.

I am a big believer in the psychological side of baseball. Zambrano's presence in the bullpen, in theory, could boost the other pitchers' confidence so that they stop trying to be absolutely perfect and just pitch like they were in Spring Training when they were actually getting people out.

This is not how the bullpen should be constructed and it is an absolute joke that it has come to a situation where a move of this magnitude is necessary, but for that, we need to be pissed at Jim Hendry.  This is simply Lou taking a big asset from his source of most depth and reallocating it to where it can potentially have the biggest impact.

Paying Zambrano ace money in a set-up role is ridiculous.

Again, this is an indictment of Jim Hendry and his reliance on human faberge eggs when it comes to his pitching staff.  He singlehandedly doomed the 2004, 2005, and 2006 seasons by never learning to not rely on Wood and Prior, and this year he put all his money on Angel Guzman in the 8th inning role.

The money being paid to Zambrano is irrelevant in deciding who gets moved, especially since Dempster and Silva would have also been dramatically overpaid as set-up men.  Let's face it, moving Wells would have been greeted with an almost equal level of derision and moving Gorzellany would make the Cubs' bullpen more left-leaning than Greenpeace.

Zambrano's worst innings are early on, so every time he appears will be an early inning.

This was a concern of mine when I first summarized the pros and cons of each of the potential choices to move to the bullpen in a post earlier this week, but I've thought about it more and I'm not quite as concerned as I was.

When Zambrano pitches as a starter, he is pitching on four or five days rest.  As a bullpen guy, he will very rarely have that many days off to get his arm back to that fresh level where he overthrows everything. 

Now, this could be a flawed assumption because he is going to be called on to get out of jams and hold teams down with one or two run leads and his adrenalin is going to be pumping because, you know, he's Carlos.  It's what he does.  We'll have to see how this pans out.

Gorzelanny and Silva will not keep up being as useful as they have been so far.

This is almost certainly going to come true, but the fact is that most teams only have three decent starters at best and then a careful plan of hoping and praying on the fourth and fifth days anyway.  The Cubs aren't handicapping themselves below most teams by making this move, plus, there is the possibility that Silva and Gorzelanny can maintain being useful.  They both have before int he past.  This isn't like when the Cubs thought Mike Bielecki was an actual #2 starter.

The bar for fourth and fifth starters is pretty low and it is not unreasonable to hope that Silva and Gorzelanny can continue to casually step over that bar as they have been.

So is this a move made out of desperation?  Absolutely.  Is it ridiculous that they find themselves in this position before May?  You bet your ass.  Will this move preclude this team from winning the World Series this year?  Probably, but they weren't even going to get into the playoffs without doing something drastic.  Am I depressed that I actually find myself on the same side of this argument as Dave Kaplan and Al Yellon?  Yeah......... (but you folks against the move are with Phil Rogers, so none of us are clean here).

This is not a team that is built for the long haul.  It is built to win this year or be blown up, so you might as well put it all on the table and make the game as short as possible by having two huge power arms blowing people away in the 8th and 9th innings so the starters can have confidence that a quality start can occasionally result in a win for the team.

Jim Hendry has to be fired for putting the team in this position, but I applaud Lou for not being afraid to be unconventional, and I am in love with Carlos Zambrano for complying with what they think is best for the team.


Jake the Terrible Cubs Fan said...

Well to be fair, we enjoy writing a blog post before sitting back and rationalizing things. We're immature that way. Either way I can't honestly support this move. It's like an old woman driving a fully loaded Ford F-150 just 4 blocks on Sundays to church and back.

Aisle 424 said...

Don't get me wrong, the fact that this move had to be made (or one similar to it) pisses me off beyond words. I get that this is a hugely polarizing move and I am no more correct than the people who hate it, but I don't hate it.

The reaction may be over the top, but the reasons behind hating the move are very valid, so I wouldn't necessarily call it immature. I'm just saying I don't hate the move. I hate the reason for the move and that reason is Jim Hendry.

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