The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Carlos Zambrano Must Die

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Carlos Zambrano must die.

It’s not easy for me to say that. I like Carlos Zambrano. I’ve followed him since his major league debut in August of 2001. I was sitting along the 3rd base line that day, but don’t remember much about his performance (it wasn’t too memorable anyhow… he chucked 2 strikeouts and held the Brewers scoreless until melting down for 4 hits and 7 earned runs in the 4th and 5th innings). I do remember his size, though– at 6’5” and 255 lbs., the dude looked like a Latino Roger Clemens. He was on the mound a few more times the rest of the season as he did mop-up work out of the bullpen. If it’s ever possible for a pitcher to have an ERA that matches his size, Z had it: 15.26.

Big Z became a full-time starter in 2003, pitching alongside Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and putting up some eye-catching numbers. He threw as many innings as Prior and Wood, won just one game less than Wood, and whiffed around 65% the number of batters as both. He was just getting started. In his first 5 years as a starter, Z went 77-45. Per season, he averaged 215 innings pitched and 189 Ks with a 3.29 ERA. Opposing batters could only hit .223 against him. The Cubs loved what they saw and signed him to a 5-year, $91.5 million contract near the end of the 2007 season. The fans loved Zambrano’s toughness and appreciated his intensity. We looked to him to lead the team to the playoffs and a much-coveted World Series championship.

None of that changes the fact that Carlos Zambrano must die. Since the contract, Z has gone 23-13 (he didn’t even reach double digits in wins last year). His average innings per season has dropped by almost 30, and his average strikeouts by 48. His ERA has ballooned to 3.84, and opposing batters now hit him at a .246 rate (only 18th best in the NL). He was on the disabled list twice last year, has complained of dehydration (after ignoring a diet and regimen of fluid consumption the team gave him), and has had tendonitis in his arm from too much text messaging with his brothers. If all that isn’t bad enough, Zambrano’s legacy remains that he has never won a playoff game in 5 opportunities, has never won 20 games, and has never finished higher than 5th in Cy Young Award voting.

The ink was barely dry on the 2007 contract when we started to see a different player. Zambrano’s dark side began to emerge on a regular basis; some referred to it as Cuckoo Carlos. We had glimpses as far back as 2003 when he got into a spat with Barry Bonds after striking him out. In 2004, he was ejected when he plunked Jim Edmonds in retaliation for Edmond’s showboating on a homerun from a previous at-bat. In 2005, Zambrano was ejected from the season opener. A few months before the 2007 contract, he got in a fistfight with Michael Barrett in the dugout (Z had also fought a teammate in the minor leagues while on a minor league rehab in 2002). Last year, he had a meltdown in Pittsburgh that earned an ejection and suspension (when he got the hook, Z ejected the umpire, hurled a ball into the outfield, threw his glove, and then destroyed a cooler in the dugout). A month later, Zambrano lost his cool against the White Sox so severely that Chicago Tribune sports writer Phil Rogers called for the Cubs to release the tempestuous twit.

All told, Zambrano has become a major pain in the rear end for Cubs fans. We go from falling at his feet (he pitched a no-hitter in 2008, the first by a Cub since 1972) to wanting to choke him– all too often in the same inning. I think the comparisons to Roger Clemens are fair and Zambrano can still meet them. He has shown Clemens’ intensity and plenty of his power in the past. Baseball also compares Z to Josh Beckett, Chris Carpenter, Jake Peavy, and Barry Zito. It’s laughable that anybody would say Z is anywhere close to the first three, and truly a laugh that his pitching most resembles Zito’s since Zito joined the Giants. As things stand right now, this is a critical year for Zambrano. The rumor is that he has lost weight and is eager to prove himself. That’s not enough for me to retract my original statement. He’s the third starter in the rotation, but is earning staff ace money.  It’s past time for him to live up to the hype and contract.  I’ve dedicated myself to watching Z closely this season, and weighing in after each start as to whether the Cubbies should keep him or kick him to the curb.  Stay tuned.


Written by seeker70

April 3, 2010 at 12:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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