Analysis

Zambrano Nearing – Is He The Best Option?

http://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=/i/headshots/mlb/players/full/4499.png&w=350&h=254The big Phillies news this morning was that Carlos Zambrano will be headed to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to pitch against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders on Thursday night. Zambrano has pitched well against Minor League opponents (16.1 IP, 10 H, 1 ER, 12 K, 7 BB per Matt Provence) and reiterated his readiness to pitch for the Phillies after his weekend start with the Fightins. “I’m here to pitch with them and I’m here to be one of the pieces along with the other 24 guys on the roster . . . be one little piece and help the team,” Zambrano said.

Despite Zambrano’s enthusiasm, a scout that the Inquirer’s Mike Still spoke to saw it differently: “He wasn’t like the old Carlos Zambrano. I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high. He won’t be anything close to what he used to be like.”

But is what Zambrano is right now better than what the Phillies already have?

The answer, as you may have guessed, is probably not.

Whether it is Tyler Cloyd, Jonathan Pettibone, or John Lannan, Zambrano does not pose a very clear upgrade over any of them.

Let’s take a look at some of the basic stats:

ERA WHIP
2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013
Carlos Zambrano 4.82 4.49 ?? Carlos Zambrano 1.44 1.5 ??
Tyler Cloyd 2.78* 4.91 3.68 Tyler Cloyd 1.09* 1.21 1.47
Jonathan Pettibone 2.96* 3.25* 3.70 Jonathan Pettibone 1.21* 1.25* 1.41
John Lannan 3.7 4.13 6.14 John Lannan 1.46 1.44 1.23
FIP xFIP
2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013
Carlos Zambrano 4.59 4.47 ?? Carlos Zambrano 4.34 4.84 ??
Tyler Cloyd 2.82* 5.25 4.09 Tyler Cloyd N/A 5.25 4.09
Jonathan Pettibone 3.63* 3.25* 4.64 Jonathan Pettibone N/A N/A 4.62
John Lannan 4.28 3.71 4.02 John Lannan 4.24 4.70 4.20

What jumps out at me is the following, without even considering Zambrano:

– Lannan is a solid Major League pitcher and was a bargain offseason acquisition. He is likely an upgrade over Cloyd and Pettibone.

– Cloyd was effective at limiting base runners in the Minor Leagues and has made adjustments in 2013 to be more effective. A quick look at FanGraphs shows that he is using his fastball and change-up less and going to the cutter 5% more. He has also shaved off, on average, 3 MPH of his change-up while pitching in the Majors this year. Cloyd has definitely improved a bit in 2013 against Major League hitters but for the most part, he is still what he is – a back-end starter.

– Pettibone has his lowest K/9 IP of any professional season in his career in 2013 but has a lower BB/9 IP in the Majors than in his two brief stints in AAA. If Pettibone can continue to lower his BB/ 9 IP and raise his K/9 IP (great observation, Ian!), he will be a solid Major League arm.

The sample size is admittedly quite small for Cloyd and Pettibone when using their Major League stats and their Minor League stats are tough to “translate” but I believe that they are both better right now than Zambrano and Lannan has been.

—–

On May 12, rumors were heating up that Zambrano would be signed by the Phillies. Amongst the evidence I used to show this was a bad idea was mapping out his Win Probability Added (WPA) – his contribution to each game he started with the Marlins. His season started well enough: he contributed positive value on a regular basis and helped the Marlins hover around .500 before eventually collapsing. In only one of his last 11 starts, Zambrano made a positive contribution to the Marlins:

Zambrano WPA 2012

On May 12, we, as fans, observers, and media, still were not sure how Pettibone or Cloyd would answer the call. Pettibone had impressed and Cloyd had one solid start under his belt. Their performances haven’t detracted from the team any more than the offense outages or relief pitching has and, for the most part, each has earned the right to stay in the Majors until Lannan and, possibly, Roy Halladay return.

And finally, on May 12, I wrote a word of caution that still rings true despite Zambrano’s successes in the Minor Leauges:

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.

Zambrano may be ready to pitch for the Phillies, but Pettibone and Cloyd do not look like they are ready to leave. Zambrano is not the best option to round out the Phillies rotation.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Bart Shart

    June 11, 2013 at 11:31 am

    No, Zambrano isNOT te best option.

  2. Pamikedc

    June 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Close one. It’s so tasty to try and give him a start or two!!! If he is called up, what would the Phils have to pay him?

  3. bacardipr

    June 11, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    I would try him in the bullpen. Though reading he seems to not want to be at the bullpen. Cloyd and Petti have been doing pretty good. Yea they will get shellacked every once in a while but we expect that from 4/5th starters. I would hate for them to give up on Cloyd and he turns out to be a serviceable starter. Perhaps Petti can swing into a bullpen role. Then again if he is doing ok as a starter why change it.

  4. Manny

    June 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    We have until July 1st, right? Let’s see how he performs the next two starts… I’d like to see a better K/BB ratio. I feel like the minute he starts walking people he loses it… especially in the big leagues.

  5. pamikedc

    June 11, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    How does Tyler and Jon stack up vs our 4/5 last season?? Calling Schekman for the stats… 🙂

  6. hogey's role

    June 11, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Idk zambrano has been a ticking time bomb for a while now… he’s been far from average the last few years and minor league numbers don’t always translate to the majors… I like pettibone so far I say leave him alone and I’m not really sure how I feel about cloyd he’s kinda touchy if he’s not close to locating he gets hammered more than it seems the next guy

  7. Mike in NJ

    June 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    I’d say he’s a better option than Cloyd, but IDK if he’s worth the drama.

  8. Chuck A.

    June 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    So I guess the possibility now remains that we COULD, at some point, have 3 players (more than 10% of the 25 man roster)….MiniMart, Delmon Young and Zambrano…all on the team at the same time. How far we have fallen indeed….

    • hogey's role

      June 11, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      I think we might be better off with zambrano in right field over delmon…. zambrano can hit at least

    • G7

      June 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      MiniMart shouldn’t be on the roster, but don’t lump him in with Delmon “I can only play RF” Young and Carlos “I can only start games” Zambrano..couple of head cases..

    • Ryne Duren

      June 12, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Yea Chuck you are correct! How far we have fallen. Doesn’t seem that long ago we were signing guys not to get to the playoff’s. That was a given. It was to win another world series. Now we argue about mini , D. Young, or whether cloyd or pettibon should pitch here or if zambano of all people will be on the team! Or if they can score enough runs to get hamels win #3. It’s gonna be a long season pal.

  9. George

    June 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    In a case where the stats are so similar, the best option might come down to which players who still has options. Cloyd and Pettibone can both be sent down; Zambrano can’t, and would likely be lost on July 1st. If he’s pitching well, he’ll probably be used, at least until Lannan is deemed healthy, because he does have more experience. That, of course, hinges on if he continues to get minor league results.

    There are still almost three weeks to decide, so I’m not ready to be overly concerned about it. At least there will be a choice of who will be low man on the rotation totem pole, and it’s also possible one of these guys could fill the much needed long relief role in the bullpen. I’m tired of relievers getting bombed in their second inning of work.

  10. Joe

    June 12, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    When do we realize that it’s HITTING we need,not PITCHING! This team has not hit in over 2 1/2 years! I would rather watch us loose games by 12-10 than look at this boring display at present.

    • schmenkman

      June 12, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Less than 1 1/2, actually, but agree that more scoring would be more interesting, even if they lose as much.

  11. xxLouA

    June 13, 2013 at 10:21 am

    leave him out of it. Phil’s have enough problems now as it is and doubt if Amaro can handle another one. he don’t seem to be able to handle what he already has on his hands.
    He totally wasted this team with his big contracts and hope the Phil’s can get out of them all including the one for Howard.
    Oh! excuse me they are waiting for him to get hot, I forgot.

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