Thursday, April 22, 2010

Zambrano to the Bullpen: Please Tell Me We've Been Punk'd

Z-Ro. This move has no chance of working.
I feel like I'm insulting your intelligence by explaining that moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen is a bad idea, but I've heard enough support for the decision to warrant an official dissent. So hear it is:

This is stupid.

To reduntify what I've already said on Twitter, I'd love to play golf with Lou Piniella (and Jim Hendry and Tom Ricketts and whoever else thinks this is a good idea) just so I can observe that moment when he walks on to the green, eyes up the slope on a 15-foot putt, and busts out his driver in full swing. That is what putting one of your best starters (if not definitively the best) into the bullpen. Lou putting Zambrano in the bullpen is the equivalent of Maverick saying, "I'm too close for guns, I'm switching to missiles." Yes, I'm just blogging my tweets now, deal with it.

I don't care if he becomes the closer (he won't). I don't care if he's the 7th/8th-inning setup man. I don't care how many lefties are in the pen or how many of them are capable of getting outs on a semi-regular basis. Carlos Zambrano is most definitely one of the Cubs' three best starting pitchers, and putting him in the bullpen is a waste.

Let's look at the best probable outcome of this move. Zambrano becomes the 8th-inning setup guy for Marmol and pitches brilliantly. Zambrano records 35 holds for the Cubbies in 2010 (and yes, that's a lot, the most you'll ever see from any reliever). Zambrano pitches 80 innings from the bullpen. 80 freaking innings. He gets about 10 at bats. He's great because you remember all of his appearances in all those late-inning, high-pressure situations. But he's doing a job that's not that valuable. Yes, it's a job you want done, but it doesn't take a pitcher of Z's caliber to do it.

And you know what else you'll remember? All of those mountains of innings racked up in the first 2/3 of games by pitchers inferior to Zambrano. What, you don't think you'll notice when Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva and (yeah, I love him to death, but it's true) Randy Wells rack up sample sizes large enough to reflect the pitchers they really are? Trust me, you will. At that point, the fraction of innings Zambrano will have compiled will tell you very little about his value as a relief pitcher other than the fact that relief pitchers aren't very valuable! 

This is having your CEO fold the laundry. This is buying a Slurpee with a $100 bill. This is playing your highest trump card to beat a deuce. It's paying a lot for this muffler. It's using a sledge hammer on a penny nail. It's putting on your tux before you enter a chat room.

If Carlos Zambrano pitches as well as is humanly possible out of the bullpen, it still won't amount to half the value of his contribution as a starter if he had a poor season. And if Silva and Gorzelanny will have to seriously outperform their projections to come anywhere close to a mediocre season for Zambrano. If those guys pitch well as starters and Z pitches well in relief, it will still prove that this move was stupid. It will show that either one of those guys would have almost certainly done well in relief and that the Cubs willingly shelved 75% of Zambrano's value.

The only sliver of slack I'll give Lou is the possibility that this is an extremely short term arrangement as Hendry tries to acquire another right-handed reliever who isn't good enough to start but is good enough to excel in the bullpen. It won't make this move any less stupid, but it will make it less damaging.

In the meantime, I really hope Ashton Kutcher has just Punk'd us, because this seems too overtly awkward and obscenely shocking to be true.


  1. That sound? Me in loud sustained applause. Seriously, this idea makes zero sense to me. In Sept, with Z gimpy or something and 1 game back? I guess, I could at least wrap my head around it. In mid-April? I... don't even know the words to express how desperately dumb this seems.

  2. Thanks, Allison. The more I think about this, the worse it sounds. Obviously I hope Gorzelanny, Wells, and Silva continue to pitch well, but the problem goes much deeper than just worrying about the immediate results. This is a sign that Hendry and Lou have no clue what they're doing, and I defend those guys a lot more than I criticize them.

    For the sake of argument, I'm going to spend a little time soon entertaining the idea that conventional wisdom is a giant bag of foolishness and that, despite the obvious idiocy of it all, there might be some accidental genius in this decision. But I expect it to be an exercise in futility.

  3. Hi, I found your blog on mlb trade rumors.

    Just some advice if you want to make you blog better: back up your assertions with numbers. Mainly, the main point of this post is that relievers aren't valuable, while this is true, just stating it isn't going to persuade anyone who disagrees with you.

    To actually prove your point, you should compare the expected wins for the Cubs with Zambrano starting and pitcher X in the bullpen and visa versa. Take the run differential from him pitching less innings, but higher leverage innings (and in addition pushing your second best reliever into the 3rd best position, etc.).

    While you're conclusion is almost definitely correct, you need to prove it to actually convince people.

    Best of luck


  4. Perhaps, but I also just enjoy the whole frustrated rant aspect he has going on here. Especially the sixth paragraph with CEO and the laundry. Great stuff. It must be the build up from the 102 years of anguish.

  5. I appreciate the feedback. At this point, it's more venting than convincing. But thanks a lot for the comment.

  6. Ha, yeah, and I've only had to suffer through 30 years of anguish. No wonder the 102-year-old Cub fans have mostly died off. This is stressful.


Spill it.

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