No, I'm not trying to turn Beyond the Box Score into a Cubs blog; I simply wanted to take another look at starter Carlos Zambrano.
Back in April of 2007, I posted a piece regarding Zambrano's rather pessimistic five-year PECOTA forecast. For those of you who need your memory refreshed, here's a look:
As we can see, PECOTA projected good things for Zambrano in 2007, but it certainly accredited a downward trend in his overall production. It also acknowledged the heavy workloads he had accumulated in his career up to that point may very well catch up to him as evident of the sharp decline in projected workload.
With the 2007 season long gone, let's take a look at how PECOTA did:
Nice shootin'. Zambrano's ERA rose for the third year in a row and his peripherals continue to worsen. While PECOTA was nearly dead on with the predicted home run and groundball rates, it was actually a bit generous on the strikeout and walk rates. After showing a steady increase in his ability to strike hitters out, Zambrano's K/9 really went south in 2007 and his walk rate remained at a dangerously high level.
Maybe last season was just a bump in the road for Zambrano. Maybe it was just an aberration and he'll bounce back strongly in 2008. Or is it that PECOTA is onto something here?
Back in May I suggested that Zambrano and the Cubs needed to do two things in order to "avoid" such a harsh projection: Zambrano must control his emotions on the field and the Cubs coaching staff must watch his workload.
Unfortunately, neither of the two were fulfilled in 2007.
I once again have zero statistical evidence to back up this statement, but Zambrano still shows a tendency to pitch with too much emotion. He still overthrows his pitches from time to time which often leads to poor control and far too many free passes. And who can forget about the dugout fight with former Cubs catcher Michael Barrett? As I mentioned earlier, Zambrano's emotions might very well be something holding him back.
More importantly, Zambrano continues to accumulate a ton of mileage on his right arm. From 2004 to 2006, Zambrano placed eleventh, second and second respectively in Total Pitcher Abuse Points Accumulated. Last season we saw more of the same, as Big Z placed second in that category once again.
There were a whopping 15 occasions last year in which Zambrano was forced to throw more than 110 pitches and four occasions in which he was forced to throw more than 122 pitches. I understand that Lou Piniella wants to get innings out of his starters and that it's tough to get those innings when guys like Zambrano are putting runners on base and running into high pitch counts early in the game, but this is getting a little ridiculous.
With Zambrano locked down until 2012 (for $91.5M), it's of the utmost importance the Cubs strongly monitor his workload. He might be one of those guys that can "handle" heavy workloads, but that's a very expensive risk to take.
Though the projection is outdated, if PECOTA predicts Zambrano's five-year projection as well as it did his 2007 season, the Cubs made an awfully big mistake extending his contract into the next half-decade.