The Phils don’t have a great deal of promising talent in the minor leagues right now and they are particularly thin in the outfield. It goes almost without saying that they lack a single high-profile prospect, despite Jesse Biddle single-handedly crusading against that notion. But with Biddle, comes Adam Morgan, Ethan Martin, Jonathan Pettibone, Shane Watson, and, suddenly, Perci Garner as the studs of the Phillies minor league system. What they lack in top-shelf quality, they certainly make up for in quantity, with many talented arms.
When news came out yesterday before the Phillies match-up against the Diamondbacks that Ruben Amaro Jr. was doing his due diligence in checking in with Carlos Zambrano, of the independent Long Island Ducks, I experienced a wave of emotions. First, I started with a “Well, isn’t that something?” That progressed into “Does this mean John Lannan or Roy Halladay are more injured than originally thought?”, followed directly by “Wait a minute, they don’t even need a starter: Tyler Cloyd was just sent down for Justin De Fratus because they have a pair of days off coming up and only need four starters.”
And then I remembered when he got ejected for pitching too close to Chipper Jones in 2011. His reaction? He cleaned out his locker and told team personnel he was retiring, going AWOL.
This wasn’t an isolated incident: Zambrano was once indefinitely suspended by his own manager in 2010 for calling out his own teammates mid-inning, reportedly shouting “If you’re not going to play for me, then I’m not going to play for you.” Or how about the year before when he threw a ball into the outfield after disagreeing with an umpire in the middle of a 2-2 game in the seventh inning? Sadly, this column could be filled with just these stories instead of driving to the point: Zambrano is not a good fit for the Phillies for personality and baseball reasons.
Let’s, for a moment, ignore the fact that Zambrano is quite the emotional powder keg and instead look at Zambrano the pitcher. On July 30, Zambrano was moved to the bullpen after posting a 4.54 ERA, 6.50 K/9 IP, and a career high 5.24 BB/9 IP. He only added to his team’s win probability positively seven out of 20 starts and at the end, it got bad: only one out of his last eleven starts with the Marlins did Zambrano make a positive contribution to the game. Click to enlarge:
In short, Zambrano isn’t the Zambrano that went 105-68 with a 3.51 ERA with 7.68 K/9 IP from 2001 through 2009. No, instead this Zambrano is in a different category as a player: the 4.54 ERA would have put him 71st out of 89 eligible starters last year had he qualified, surrounding him with names like Rick Porcello, Josh Beckett, and Joe Blanton, who were all worth 2-3x as much fWAR last season because their walk rates were not only under 5.24 BB/9 IP but were all under 3 BB/9 IP. Had Zambrano pitched enough innings to qualify, he would have had the third worst BB/9 IP rate in the Majors last season and his 4.84 xFIP would have put him just above Aaron Harang and Barry Zito for 84 out of 89th in MLB and behind such pitching pioneers as Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen.
There are number of issues with pursuing and then signing Zambrano, last of which is it takes up a spot on the roster that can be beneficial to see if one of the “fringier” prospects, aka your Tyler Cloyds and Pettibones, has the tools to compete at the Major League level. While Pettibone has been very effective and is just 22, Cloyd’s clock is running out: Cloyd turns 27 on Thursday and nobody is entirely sure if he is really a Major League pitcher. Why not find out? The successes of the Phillies this year won’t be effected by choosing Zambrano over Cloyd or Pettibone, or even over Biddle, Martin, or Morgan, but the successes of years in the future, namely 2014, 2015, and 2016 , sure could be. Signing Zambrano would just make me let out a big “ugh”.