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Victor Zambrano Redux

It's time for yet another look at Victor Zambrano, as we approach the one year anniversary of what many Met fans call "Black Friday."

First off, here's what I wrote about the Zambrano trade when it happened:

Talk about high prices. When did Victor Zambrano become so freaking good? Well, he's pretty hard to hit; he's not allowing a high opponents batting average at all. His problem? Control. He walks more men than a lot of Little Leaguers, it seems. The Mets have to like his age and stuff, the former being 28, and the latter being a mid-90s fastball, a good changeup, and a slider. Someone in the Met organization really likes Zambrano, because Scott Kazmir became "touchable." Kazmir throws mid to high 90s as well, is young, and has dominated AA over the last month or so. In 4 starts in AA, he's got a 1.73 ERA, and he's not walking all that many. Also striking out everybody. The Mets are supposedly worried about his health...I've gotta give the D'Rays the slight edge on this deal in particular.... "

I was not all that upset because my initial reaction was one of fandom; "The Mets can't be giving up Kazmir this easily without a real reason for it. Right? Right?"

Gradually, I reached the second and more logical conclusion - if Scott Kazmir had been actively shopped or they'd have explored dealing Kazmir elsewhere, they probably could have gotten a lot more than just Zambrano. So, no matter what Zamby does for the rest of his Met career, in that sense, the trade was not good.

That said, Zambrano has been very, very solid since a really bad April.

April: 5.81 ERA, 5 GS, 2 QS, 5.8 BB/9, 7.9 K/9, 26.3 IP, 35 H, 3 HR, 17 BB, 23 K, 4.87 FIP
Since April: 3.19 ERA, 14 GS, 10 QS, 4 BB/9, 5.1 K/9, 90.3 IP, 76 H, 3 HR, 40 BB, 51 K, 3.83 FIP

Overall, Zambrano has a .282 BABIP, a 3.78 ERA, and a 4.36 DIPS ERA. His strikeout rate has dropped off from last year to under 6 per 9 innings, which is a bit alarming.

A good portion of Zambrano's success has been due to some luck or defense, as DIPS tells us. Here are a few other observations:

  1. Zambrano has kept the ball on the ground this year and has had his most effective year to date as a groundball pitcher. His G/F ratio is at a career high at 1.67.
  2. Among pitchers with 90 innings, Zambrano ranks 10th in the majors with an isolated power of .108. This is just ahead of teammate Pedro Martinez. Not allowing homers is a good way to limit run scoring.
  3. Zambrano's K/BFP has dropped off substantially, however; it was at 18.9% last year and is all the way down at 14.1% this year.
  4. Zambrano put up a 4.43 ERA in Tampa last year. His ERA+ was a 100 for that. 3.78 at Shea Stadium in the National League? It's slightly above average, but it's not that big a difference.
So, as of now, I'm prepared to make a few conclusions.
  1. The vast majority of Victor Zambrano's success this year has been from not allowing extra base hits. He's kept the ball on the ground and is keeping it in the yard.
  2. Zambrano's control has been marginally better this year than in past years. I don't know if this can be attributed to Rick Peterson or not. It's not a huge improvement, however.
  3. If Zambrano were doing everything he has done this year with a better strikeout rate, I would be much more impressed. The stats would reflect that, too. His declining strikeouts are the reason that he has not made major improvements this year.
  4. You wonder if part of the reason that his strikeout rate has dropped is because of a change in his pitching style, either to have more control or to try and induce more grounders.
  5. All in all, Zambrano, this year, has pitched like a 3rd or 4th starter, much more like a 3rd since April. If the strikeouts return, Zambrano has the stuff at this point to become a number 2 starter, sliding in behind Pedro Martinez and ahead of Kris Benson, who has also been solid this year. A top 3 of Martinez, Zambrano, and Benson would be formidable, even if a third of it was overpaid. (Speaking of Benson, don't buy into the hype, yet; the BABIP is .242 and the DIPS ERA is 4.09).
So far, Zambrano has made some strides towards vindicating the confidence that the Mets had in him last July, but he has not yet been good enough to make Met fans forget Kazmir. But, as I said in my last installment of this, Zambrano's not a bad member of the rotation and he's a serviceable middle or back end guy (I just added in "middle"), and, if people could distance him from the Kazmir stigma, they'd find that he's not a horrible player to have.