Carlos Zambrano is heading to the bullpen? So Carlos Silva can remain in the rotation? Has there been a weirder story this spring? Or a sillier story? FanGraphs' Jack Moore -- who doubles as a Disciple of Uecker, finds all sorts of fail in this move. Yes, Zambrano is demonstrably better than Silva ...
Not only that, but a move to the bullpen for Zambrano eliminates his greatest asset – his durability. Last season was the only year since 2003 in which Zambrano didn’t throw 200 innings, and he still made 30 starts and threw 188.2 innings. Zambrano’s been worth at least 2.8 wins per season in that time frame, and that’s in spite of his second-tier peripherals. Simply put, there aren’t many pitchers, regardless of their skill, who can throw that many innings year-in and year-out.
Silva, on the other hand, is fresh off an injury in 2009 and also missed time due to injury in 2008. He threw as many innings in 2008 and 2009 combined as Zambrano did in 2009 alone. Not only that, but even in his two excellent starts as a Cub, Silva’s fastball velocity is still 1.4 MPH lower than it was in his 3.3 WAR 2007 with Minnesota.
Carlos Zambrano is simply a better pitcher than Carlos Silva. Carlos Zambrano is simply a more durable pitcher than Carlos Silva. Instead of getting 180-200 innings out of one of his top pitchers, Lou Piniella is instead opting for about 40 to 50 innings from him and then 100 to 150 out of a pitcher who projected as average at best coming into the season. The Cubs’ chances at the division were low coming into the season. If Piniella’s rash and irrational decision stays in place, they become virtually nil.
Speaking of virtually nil, that's about where I would peg the chance of Zambrano making fewer starts than Tom Gorzelanny this season.
Zambrano's given up four home runs in four starts, which is too many. The other things he can control, though? He's walked 10 batters in 19 innings, which is also too many but is roughly no more than he usually walks. Meanwhile, Zambrano's third in the league with 26 strikeouts.
I'll bet this is less about Zambrano's performance than about his attitude (according to Piniella). Call it reality therapy or a mental karate chop or whatever you like, but this strikes me as a momentary expression of annoyance more than anything else. Jack's right: Silva's not going to keep pitching brilliantly, and he's highly unlikely to pitch as well as Zambrano.
But there's room for both of them in the rotation. At the moment, Big Z's ERA is 7.45; his rotation mates go 0.69 (Silva), 1.93 (Gorzelanny), Randy Wells (2.45) and Ryan Dempster (3.15). It's hard to sit a guy with a 0.69 ERA, or even a guy with a 1.93 ERA. Those numbers will change, though, and probably quite soon. When they get where they're supposed to, Zambrano will take his rightful place in the rotation. You just have to wonder if his heart will come along for the ride.