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Zambrano Nearing – Is He The Best Option? 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:

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
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.

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