Heading into this fantasy season, Carlos Zambrano had all the momentum of three red bulls and a pot of coffee. Flashing a high K-rate in Spring Training and a change of scenery to the flamboyant Marlins Park had a lot of sleeper buzz going around the water cooler.
And, for the first month and a half of the season, all the sleeper talk was looking pretty damn founded. Sporting an ERA under 2.00 and decent K:BB splits, it looked like Zambrano had righted the ship and become fantasy relevant again. However, issues with control and two seven-run outings have pushed his ERA up to 3.71, which should be even higher given that in his last start against the Cardinals he yielded five runs, but none were earned.
So what do you do with a guy like Zambrano? He’s not ownable in 10-team mixed leagues, but anything deeper you’ve probably held onto him or he’s owned by another squad. If for some reason he was dropped, is he even worth owning in deeper formats? And is he totally ignorable in 10-team leagues if he goes on a hot streak?
I decided to watch his start last night against the Brewers to find out. Here’s how he looked:
First Inning: With two early runs of support in the top half, Zambrano’s first pitch is an 86-MPH two-seam fastball in there for strike one against leadoff man Carlos Gomez. It’s quickly 0-2, and he throws a nasty splitter, barely laid off of, 1-2. Zambrano again almost gets a swing on a fastball just off the plate, 2-2. After fouling one off, Gomez then taps one to short and Zambrano gets the first hitter. He seems to be attacking the zone well early on, and again gets ahead 0-1 on Nyjer Morgan. The next pitch is his first curveball that looked atrocious, way outside and barely breaking at 77-MPH. Let’s hope that pitch improves. On the 1-2, Morgan then grounds out weakly to second, two down. Big Z again gets ahead 0-1 on a 92-MPH fastball to Ryan Braun, but the next pitch is way high and tight and hits Braun on the elbow. There’s your control problem – or maybe Zambrano didn’t want to challenge arguably the best hitter in the NL. Zambrano gets former teammate Aramis Ramirez to foul the first one off to go up 0-1 yet again, but misses way inside again, 1-1. Ramirez fights it back to full, and after fouling one off, Zambrano goes to his slider and it’s off the plate and low for his first walk. Ramirez battled tough, it wasn’t a bad walk there. The first pitch to Corey Hart is that same rolling curveball that barely breaks at 78-MPH for strike one. I don’t think he’ll get away with that pitch the second time through the order. Zambrano gets ahead 1-2, but Hart fouls a few off, and the 2-2 is way off the plate for another full count. That one hit 93-MPH, so his fastball still has some life. The next pitch is a 92-MPH fastball that barely dips low, and it’s yet another walk, bases loaded. Again, not a terrible walk, but you’ve gotta attack the zone. And the pitches that are hitting the corners are getting fouled off. Zambrano starts Rickie Weeks with a slider way low and outside, and falls behind for the first time, 1-0. Not what you want to do with the bases loaded. The next one is outside, then the following pitch barely misses the corner, 3-0. Uh-oh. And another pitch is outside, and Zambrano 4-pitch walks in a run. Zambrano really wanted that 2-0 fastball, and his body language showed it. He’s getting frustrated too easily, and it’s causing him to overthrow. He gets a strike over to Martin Maldonado, but then throws a slider, outside, 1-1. The next pitch is hit hard to short, but it’s an easy play at second and the inning is over. What a rough inning, but Big Z still has the lead.
Second Inning: After the top half in which both benches have been warned (Zack Greinke threw inside on Zambrano, almost hitting him after Braun was hit in the bottom of the first – I mention this as Big Z’s control problems could lead to an ejection), Zambrano starts the second with a 86-MPH fastball off the plate for ball one to Cesar Izturis. The 1-1 is laced into the gap and reaches the wall for a leadoff triple. That was hit hard and in the perfect place. Zambrano needs to buckle down against opposing pitcher Greinke. The first pitch is a pitchout hoping to avoid the suicide squeeze, then the next one is hit hard to center for a sacrifice fly. Tie game, 2-2. Zambrano starts Gomez with a 90-MPH fastball that is fouled off, 0-1. Gomez works it to 2-1, but Zambrano gets him to swing and miss on a fastball high, 2-2. Gomez then fouls three straight, but the next one is 83-MPH slider that gets Gomez swinging, two down and Zambrano’s first strikeout on the night. Zambrano falls behind of Morgan 2-0, then 3-1. With the count full, Morgan flares out to third.
Third Inning: Zambrano picks up three more runs of support, and starts Braun with a 78-MPH breaking ball that Braun flies out weakly to right, one down on one pitch. Zambrano pounds the zone and gets ahead of Ramirez 0-2, then gets him to ground out, two down on four pitches. Then the 1-0 to Hart induces another lazy flyout to right, and it’s a six-pitch inning for Zambrano. Huge inning there.
Fourth Inning: The big guy falls behind 1-0, then gets Weeks to foul one back and swing through a nice splitter, 1-2. Zambrano again goes to that curveball at 77-MPH that Weeks pops straight back, but the next one gets him swinging, one down. Maldonado flies out to right on the first pitch, and Zambrano gets Izturis to fly out to right as well on a 2-2 pitch jamming him — another 1-2-3 inning for Big Z.
Fifth Inning: Zambrano quickly gets ahead of Greinke 0-2, then gets him to dribble one to first, one down. But, the first pitch to Carlos Gomez is crushed on a rope to left for a home run. That splitter just hung up on a tee with virtually no movement in the mid-80s. However, it’s still only the second hit given up by Big Z. On the 2-2 to Morgan, Nyjer hits one hard to third that eats up Hanley Ramirez for an error, but Morgan tries for second and he’s thrown out. So an error is immediately cleared and Zambrano faces Braun with the bases empty and two out. The first pitch to him is a fastball taken for strike one, then the next fastball dips low, 1-1. This is a big at-bat for Zambrano, who hit Braun with two outs in the first, leading to three straight walks. He gets ahead 1-2, then Braun fouls one back. Braun then hits a tapper to second that Infante can’t field correctly, but it would have been close. The scorer ends up giving Braun the hit. Zambrano checks on Braun and throws the ball pretty well to first, but it’s dropped by Dobbs and Braun moves into scoring position. The error ends up going to Zambrano, even though it wasn’t a bad throw; tough error and tough hit scored against Big Z. Zambrano works it to 1-1 on Ramirez and Aramis belts one deep to center, but it’s a loud out on the warning track and Zambrano escapes with just the solo home run given up.
Sixth Inning: Zambrano gets ahead of Hart 1-0, then induces a tapper to third, but Hanley Ramirez rushes and throws it into the stands with Hart moving to second on the error. Really, really shoddy defense thus far by the Marlins. Zambrano again finds himself falling behind 2-0 to Weeks, and loses him on five pitches. Runners on first and second with no outs. After an unsuccessful pickoff at second, Maldanado squares and lays down a perfect bunt for an infield hit; bases loaded with no outs. However, the first pitch to Izturis is grounded right back to Zambrano, who starts the 1-2-3 double play. Huge play there to get two outs without conceding a run. Zack Greinke is lifted for pinch-hitter Travis Ishikawa, and Zambrano falls behind 1-0 then gets him to foul off two straight, 1-2. The next pitch is a 91-MPH fastball that sails way high and away, almost a wild pitch, 2-2. I think Zambrano is a little fatigued. And sure enough, the next pitch is a splitter that stays a little too close to the plate on the inner half, and Ishikawa flares it to right center for a 2-RBI single. Tie game, 5-5. Zambrano is able to strike out Gomez swinging on three straight pitches to end his evening.
Final Line: ND 105 Pitches (66 Strikes)
5 Hits 4 Walks 5 Runs (3 Earned) 3 Ks
Final Analysis: More of the same from Zambrano, making me think he’s a pass in virtually all formats as a spot starter. He’s not exactly wild, but a lot of his “better” pitches are getting spoiled and hitters are able to lock in on anything in the zone. His slider and curveball are both not doing much of anything, leaving a huge reliance on his splitter that he had two huge hits off of (the Gomez homer and Ishikawa’s 2-RBI single).
I honestly thought there still might be something there with Zambrano, but he’s just a big Zzzzzzz for me. Sure, this was technically a quality start with 6 innings and 3 earned runs, but it was anything but quality. Unless you’re in the deepest of mixed-leagues or in NL-only, Zambrano is easily cuttable.