Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Carlos Zambrano

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Big move: Big Z heads to bullpen

With Ted Lilly's impending return to the starting rotation, Cubs fans were scratching their heads wondering which starter would move to the bullpen. Carlos Silva's been the most reliable starter thus far. Moving Tom Gorzelanny there would mean the team would have more lefties in the 'pen than righties. Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells look rather comfortable in their roles.

And then there was Z.

To put it concisely, I like the move. In many ways Zambrano has been the Cubs' least productive starter over the last year plus. And one of his biggest flaws is his tendency to have an elevated pitch count, meaning he doesn't go deep enough into games.  As a reliever, he will only be asked to throw an inning or so at a time.

So the Cubs essentially trade out Zambrano for Lilly in the starting rotation, which to me is a win. And then they trade, say, Jeff Gray for Zambrano in the bullpen. Also a win. It's a bold move that could certainly backfire, but I think it's worth a try.

Oh, and I completely reject the thought that this is a bad decision simply because Zambrano is making so much money. The $18 million he'll earn this year is a sunk cost--he's getting the money either way. Therefore, what's important is to do what management believes is best for the team, regardless of what relievers and starters are "supposed" to earn.

In other horrible, stupid news: Zambrano to the bullpen

Look folks, it's a trivia question!

Q: What team had the highest-paid relief pitcher in history?
A: GAAAAAAH! 

Just thinking here.  Sure, Zambrano's been tossing a lot of pitches, but he's been pretty effective minus that horrendous opening day start.  The Cubs have him in a no-trade contract, locked up until 2012, and they are paying him something like 17 million or more this season.

They also have on their team Carlos Silva, a pitcher who has been performing well above his ability in the rotation, who's a short-timer with the Cubs.  Not to mention Tom Gorzelanny.

So why -- why?!? - does Lou Piniella and the Cubs pick Carlos Zambrano to be the new set-up guy?  How -- how?!?! -- does this make the Cubs better? 

It's not just a trivia question -- it's a mystery.  It is a nonsensical riddle that will frustrate fans, enrage Zambrano, and possibly result in his eventual waiving of the no-trade clause so he can be sent to the Red Sox at far below his real value.  (After all -- who gives up a lot for a 16 million plus starter who's been delegated to the bullpen?  How does this drive up his value?)

Feel free to express your rage in the comments section. 

Game Recap: Cubs 6, Brewers 8 -- Scratching and clawing

Game RecapI listened to this game on the radio today, which was actually pretty fun. I like Ron and Pat. And really, who doesn't?

I forget the inning, and I forget who it was that said it, but at some point in the game one of our esteemed radio hosts pointed out that when these two teams meet, they often compete in a way that feels like they're scratching and clawing at each other.

I felt that was an apt description. Check the box score: one run top one, one run bottom one; one run top four, two runs bottom four; one run top six, one run bottom six; and so on and so forth. The game had the back-and-forth of a quality boxing match.

For the Cubs, Scratcher and Clawer Number One from today's game was Carlos Zambrano. He didn't have his best stuff, walking a batter in each of the first three innings, as well as giving up a double and a homer over the same stretch. And usually, walks plus extra base hits equals early exit.

But Z fought back, eventually throwing 123 pitches (!) over the course of five stressful innings. And when he finally reached the dugout, instead of assaulting the Gatorade, he drank it, presumably to ward off some cramps he may have been feeling (and who knows how early in the game they started).

(Indeed, Kurt has previously posed a question that goes something like: if I told you a Cub was continuing to pitch after having been stabbed in the shoulder with a knife, which Cub do you think that would be? Despite his occasional display of a lack of maturity, the young man is our toughest player.)

Opposing starter Jeff Suppan was also pulled after five innings, with the game tied at four, making this one a battle of the bullpens -- a battle that we would eventually lose, once Jeff Samardzija and John Grabow worked their magic on the scoreboard.

Let me throw a hypothetical situation out there for you: suppose our entire pitching staff, from top to bottom, from Peoria to Chicago, were healthy. Which twelve dudes would you want on the major league team?

There are several locks: Z, Demp, Lilly, and Wells in the rotation, and Marshall and Marmol in the 'pen. Beyond that, give me Tom Gorzelanny in the fifth spot, Carlos Silva in long relief (I don't see this guy throwing much more than 90 pitches in a game ever), Berg and Russell specializing against guys with the same handedness as they have, and Gray and Caridad doing their best to fend off Cashner from taking a spot on the roster.

Maybe that's an obvious discussion, but I hope you realize the consequences of it: Jim Hendry absolutely wasted $8 million on Aaron Mi -- I mean, John Grabow this offseason.

And a few thoughts on the offense today: kudos to Geovany Soto for getting on base three times, kudos to Tyler Colvin for coming up with two hits and scoring twice, and major kudos to Marlon Byrd for knocking the cover off the ball in the third inning. And how about Alfonso Soriano actually drawing a walk in one pinch hitting at-bat? Crazy, man.

Regardless, the series is won. Yippee skippe. Bring on the hapless Astros, who thankfully managed to win a game today. Lord knows a team like that can't possibly manage to win two in a row.

Series Preview: Cubs at Reds

Goat Riders
The Cubs leave Atlanta and head to Cincinnasty with a 1-2 record. Things could be worse, and they most certainly could be better.

The team lost on Opening Day, in a game where Carlos Zambrano decided to stop pitching and start throwing fastball after fastball. Presumably, the idea was to generate a bunch of contact early in counts, and hope batted balls turned into outs instead of towering home runs to right field.

We all know how that went.

Carlos will have a chance to bring his ERA down from 54.00 on Saturday, in Game 2 of this upcoming series with the Reds. In fact, if he manages to allow one or fewer runs in 7.2 or more innings pitched, it'll come all the way down to below 9.00. For what that's worth.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Game 1: Carlos Silva vs. Homer Bailey

I thought all along that Silva would be stashed in the 'pen as a long reliever, and that Gorzo and Marshall would take over starting duties until Mr. L-to-the-Illy came back. But here we are on the fourth game of the 2010 season, with Silva the Hutt slated to start.

Whether he wins or loses, Silva will probably give up several hits -- maybe six or seven in six innings pitched. He won't strike many batters out, and the difference between winning and losing may come down to how many walks he gives up. We want singles and ground ball outs, not walks and fly balls. A lot like Randy Wells, actually.

Also, Alfonso Soriano has three hits in as many at-bats against Homer Bailey. Just saying.

I bet the final score is 6-4. One team will win and the other will not win.

Game 2: Carlos Zambrano vs. Aaron Harang

So like I was saying, Big Z gets a chance to redeem himself on Saturday, as he faces Aaron Harang for the billionth time in his career.

I'll predict Carlos gives up four in six, Harang gives up three in seven, and that Jeff Samardzija puts this one out of reach for the Cubs, allowing two or three runs himself in an inning of relief.

Game 3: Tom Gorzelanny vs. Mike Leake

Again, I find myself saying, "As long as he doesn't walk a bunch of batters he'll be fine." No doi, AJ. But it's really true of Gorzo, also. He's not gonna rack up strikeouts, and he has OK stuff. His problems always seem to happen when he walks five or six batters in the midst of a five or six inning start.

I'm gonna guess he walks three, and gives up several runs -- but that it won't matter, because the Cubs are facing a rookie right-hander, a class of pitcher that always seems to confound them. They might not score more than two runs against Leake.

For pessimism's sake, I'll suppose the Reds win the first game, giving the Cubs a second consecutive series loss and a 2-4 record by the time they get home.

I'll be especially pissed if Theriot strikes out four more times or Grabow issues three more walks, but I'll probably be able to forget absolutely everything bad about this series if Tyler Colvin stays hot and does some cool stuff.

I love Tyler Colvin. There, I said it.

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The True Story of the 120-Win Zambran-0-Meter

About a million years ago (I think before the start of the '05 season, but perhaps before the start of the '04 year), Carlos Zambrano once predicted that a healthy Cubs team would win 120 games.

That is what inspired the Zambran-0-Meter.  Some years we have tempered the expectations a bit, modifying it to 110, 100, or even 90 games.  One year we changed it into a 100-loss meter (fueled by the fiery glare of Dusty Baker).  But, for the time being, in 2010 it will be 120 wins again.

It is difficult to keep updated for a bunch of reasons.  It takes time and effort that I don't always have.  Usually if somebody nudges me to fix it, I intentionally ignore them because I do have some characteristics of a douchebag, but if you notice that it's been a week without updates feel free to let me know in the ShoutBox and I will make the appropriate changes.

Will the Cubs win 120 games?  Or even 100?  Or even 90?  Who knows.  But let's celebrate hope for as long as we have it.  120 wins.  Yes they can!

2010 Player Preview: Carlos Zambrano

Carlos Zambrano
It's hard to believe that the Ageless Carlos Zambrano is still chugging away in a Cubs uniform.  After all these years, as the decades have rolled by, Carlos has remained a Cub.  Sure, there's a lot of gray in his beard now, and the wrinkles are evident on his sand-paper-like skin, but we can certainly count on the Old Moose to step up once more and deliver unto the Cubs a season of glory.  True, the years finally caught up with him a bit in 2009, as he had a career-low 9 wins and pitched in only 169.1 innings, but that creaky, arthritic arm of his surely has a few more innings left in it.

...holy shit, he's still only 28?!

I imagine that every team probably has that player who the fans both love and are flabbergasted by.  I'm talking about that guy who has demonstrated flashes of insane brilliance, and been rewarded financially, only for him to never overcome his greater demons and become the star that his fans were hoping to see.  That's probably Carlos Zambrano in a nut-shell.

He's already won 105 games as a Cub.  That's nearly 30 more than Kerry Wood's total, although I'm sure Cub fans have a softer spot for the Former Kid K than they do for the Big Z.  He's led the league in wins, struck out 200-or-more batters twice, delivered 5 years of 200+ innings of work (despite most of those seasons coming under the shadow of Dusty Baker's abusive reign), had an ERA as low as 2.75, and pitched a no-hitter with a proverbial nail sticking out of his arm.  

He's also suffered from a series of nagging arm cramps, problems with his weight, he coined the disease "internet elbow," he loses his mind annually, taunts the umpires, insists on batting from both sides of the plate, curses loudly in Spanish whenever he does something awesome, has voiced displeasure at Chicago, has threatened to retire, and generally speaking is the most interesting guy in the room at any given time, often for all the wrong reasons.

And he's only 28.

So, what comes next in the story of the Big Moose?  Does he finally harness his emotions and win 20?  Does his arm finally give out, resulting in that inevitable surgery we all know he'll eventually need?  Or will we see another season of brilliant moments, agonizing outings, and outrageous actions?

My guess is on the third option there.  Carlos probably isn't the classical ace that people like Rob covet.  He probably will never dominate like Fernando did.  He'll probably never win a Cy Young Award.  Realistically speaking, he's probably a bit overpaid for the performance he'll give the Cubs.  But on any given day, in any given situation, I would put Carlos Zambrano up against any ace on any other team in baseball.  Guys like CC Sabathia or Johan Santana may win more games over the long-haul, but I'll take the 7 innings Carlos will deliver under pressure over anybody else in the game.  

And he's only 28.

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Why is everyone laughing at the Zambrano Yankee rumors?

While it is most likely that Hendry is lying awake with visions of Matt Capps (ugh) and Marlon Byrd (ooof) or even Scotty Pods (DON'T DO IT, JIM!!!  I'm warning you) dancing in his head, it would be remiss of us to not mention the most recent and outrageous rumor about Big Z going to the Evil Empire.

It seems that the Yankees (Dutch for "John Cheese", a derogatory term for an American) are looking to make a trade for a front-line starter, and surprise, surprise, they are looking to take on salary so they don't have to give up top prospects.  More than likely, this trade would include one of their center-fielders with big-league experience, Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner, that they no longer need. 

Perhaps there is truth to the rumor being started by the New York media, or perhaps somebody just did some math and figured the Cubs have a highly paid, high-profile starter and also have a need for a CF, so they threw their dart there.  Z's agent, when contacted, said that he hasn't been 'formally notified' and that Z would not waive his no-trade protection to go there regardless.  It is a shame that we've heard this talk hundreds of times before, yet many players with no-trade protection start out denying all, then ended up moving anyway.  Roy Halladay immediately comes to mind.

It's all posturing, negotiating tactics, to immediately deny contact and throw up the no-trade screen.  Z's agent is waiting to see how the Cubs react to this story.  If Hendry doesn't immediately and vehemently deny interest, then the agent will go to Z and say "look, they are shopping you after all", and then the dance begins.  The one part of this that seems disingenious is his agent's assertion that Z doesn't want to play in New York. 

Agent, please?  Nobody believes that the Big Man wouldn't love the Big Stage.

What do I think?  It takes effort, unfortunately, to sieve through my feelings and the facts of the situation.  Based on talent alone, there's no way we should even consider getting rid of Carlos Zambrano.  He's immature, still to this day.  He succeeded a few years ago when he was young enough to get by on raw talent alone.  Now that his body has started to rebel, a little, he needs to adjust, to take better care of himself and concentrate more on his craft, and most of all, to get his damn emotions in check.  If and when he ever does that, he'll win 20, easily, so we should never consider getting rid of him, talent-wise, until he becomes completely impossible to live with, like Milton Bradley.

Then, though, you have to consider his gigantic contract.  If we got rid of it, that would theoretically open up a lot of payroll that would be useful to improving the team as a whole.

Thing is, I have always considered the previous paragraph, in the Cubs case, to be completely invalid.  The Cubs are probably neck-and-neck with the Dodgers for third in revenues, behind the Yankees and Red Sox.  Any salary cap the Cubs set is artificial, and I am BITTERLY disappointed in the Ricketts for continuing to impose one.  The Tribune set this point, doubtlessly with reams of business analysis, as the point where profit is maximized.  The Ricketts claimed to be in this to win, not to make the most money.

Perhaps if there was a promise that, once the ballpark was rehabilitated to the point where it itself could generate maximum profits (which is necessary, to a certain point, and don't ever forget that Tom Ricketts, who famously met his wife in the bleachers, is nothing more than a Chad who loves the ivy-clad outdoor saloon as much, or more, than the Cubs themselves) that they would then plow the additional profits directly into the talent base...but that hasn't come up yet.  I understand that money doesn't necessarily mean wins, but in this case, since so much money has been wasted on Z, Soriano, Fukudome and Bradley/Silva, and since we do not have many prospects ready to go, it's going to take money to get over the hump.

Which takes me back to my original stance - until Z becomes impossible to live with, moving his salary is unfair to us, the fans.  We should be able to get a decent center fielder without having to consider whose current salary we would need to eliminate.  For all the money we spend on the Cubs, we should be able to have our cake and eat it, too.

2009 Recap: Carlos Zambrano

2009 Recap
Quick -- name the last pitcher signed to a massive multi-million dollar contract that got through the deal unscathed! 

Chances are you can't.  This is a big reason why rewarding a 20-something starting pitcher with more than a hundred million dollars guaranteed is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you don't scenario.

And thus, at least a few of us expected Carlos Zambrano to have this kind of year.  The amazing thing is that, despite nagging soreness issues, and despite his workout regime being questionable, he hasn't had to undergo major surgery.  Maybe he won't have to.  Probably it's only a matter of time.  Still, Carlos has become a polarizing figure amongst Cub fans, and this year has not helped his cause at all.

After all -- Carlos Zambrano went on the DL for swinging a bat too hard during batting practice.  Apparently this is something that ace pitchers do not do, although he was hardly the only Cub pitcher to get hurt doing something stupid.  Ryan Dempster -- he of the 17-win 2008 season -- broke his toe jumping a fence.  Where was the outrage?

In fact, the microscope Zambrano has been under might be just a bit unfair.  Is he an ace?  Hell yes.  Has he pitched like one lately?  No.  The Moose only managed 9 wins in 2009, the worst of his career, resulting in threats of early retirement if he ever plays this badly again. 

But think about it.  His ERA was 3.77 -- the lowest it's been since 2006.  He walked too many guys like usual, but he struck out 22 more batters in nearly 20 fewer innings from last year.  His numbers weren't actually all that bad, the only problem is that the wins weren't there.

When you're an ace, the wins have to be there.  When you're an ace, the ERA has to be lower than 3.77.  When you're making 16 million a year, you need to pitch 200 innings.  When you're the guy the team calls on to break a losing streak, you need to reliably dominate the opponents without suffering from brief mental breakdowns. 

Except for one thing ... Zambrano could have had an ERA 1 run lower, he could have avoided missing a single start, he could have been the model of mental health, and with the Cubs offense as it was he would have struggled to win even 12 games in 2009.  An ace is a lot of things, but he's not a miracle man.

So, what is in store for Carlos Zambrano in 2010?  More breakdowns of both the physical and mental variety?  Or will he step up and deliver a year like the kind we thought he'd have two or three seasons ago?

I'll only say this: whenever Rob has decried that Zambrano is not an ace because he isn't Maddux in the clubhouse and because he's nutty on the field, I've brought up a single name: Roger Clemens.  From 1993 to 1996, Clemens went 40-41, he failed to reach 200 innings in a season all but once, and he essentially wrote his exit story from Boston.  After that, he buckled down, got into impeccable shape (through chemical means, admittedly), and pitched himself to several Cy Youngs.  In the process, Clemens stopped traveling with his team, he stopped going to work on days he didn't pitch, he threw a baseball bat at Mike Piazza in the World Series, and he was seen across the board as a total, undeniable prick. 

So what's an ace?  Is it Greg Maddux, the impeccable professional?  Or is it Roger Clemens, the asshole with a golden cannon for an arm?  I submit to you that it can be both, and the only thing Carlos Zambrano needs to do is toss 200 innings in 2010 and maintain his mechanics in order for even Rob to re-qualify him as an ace pitcher.  Because if he does those two things -- regardless of whether or not he gets suspended, travels in a padded cell, or breaks through walls with his head -- then he will be a sub-3.00 pitcher with damn near 20 wins. 

But whether or not that's likely to happen is a completely different story.

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Last night's game was informative

I will gloss over the fact that we came back and won a big game last night.  Yes, a big game, because even if/when we don't make the postseason this year, every instance where your team rebounds from adversity and ultimately succeeds is a fine thing.  Your young guys (Soto, Fontenot) get another valuable lesson on how to win ball games.  Your veterans (Lee, Ramirez) get the chance to show the young guys how it is done.  Your ugly guys (Bradley) don't have to deal with the pesky media for an evening.

Good, nearly all the way around.

Uh, not so fast, big Z.

In case you didn't notice, last night's game was a neat little slice of Zambrano's career with us.  Dominant for 4 2/3rds, he gives up a hit to the pitcher, and goes apeshit crazy.  He starts stomping around, muttering, pounding pitches into the dirt, swearing at his (less talented) teammates like Bobby Scales for not attempting an ill-advised throw towards home plate, ala Alfonso Soriano.  Kurt mentioned all this in his recap, but don't you think he kind of, you know, glossed over it?

Uh, guys?  THIS is precisely the problem with the guy!  He was staked with a four run lead, and all he had to do is pour in strikes.  He did just that, and in the case of Yovanni Gallardo, who isn't a bad athlete, he got a base hit.  Big whoopty damn do.  A pitcher on first base with two out.  In the whole wide spectrum of problems to have, Gallardo on first with two outs is way down there.

But not to Big Macho Z...no WAY the opposing pitcher shows HIM up!!  (Never mind he himself takes pride in all the times he hits opposing pitchers)  So sure, Theriot should have made a play on the one ball, and if Scales had an actual throwing arm, he might have had a chance to throw out Fresh Market Prince at home.  But there is NO excuse, zero, none, for the way he reacts to these situations.  Think of all the Quality pitchers you know of, do any of them react the way Zambrano does to adversity?

When all was said and done, not only did he give up the lead, but left the game down 5-4.  It was a happy coincidence that his team sucked it up and came back, but this game in a glance shows you why he has not won 20, nor will he ever, until he can drastically change his ways.

How many times in life have you been with your wife, girlfriend, kids, whatever, and had some rude prick pull one on you?  Take your parking spot, cut in front of you in line, spill his beer on your shoulder, start french kissing his honey right there in church?  Don't you just want to SMACK 'em?  But you don't!  You know why?  It isn't in the best interests of the people around you.

Same thing with Zambrano.  Yes, it is slightly embarrassing to give up a hit to the opposing pitcher.  Yes, it is frustrating for The Riot to trip over his shoelaces on a sharply hit ball to his right.  He wants to scream, yell, jump up and down, spike the ball into the grass.  But what does all that HELP?  What does it accomplish?  Nothing, absolutely nothing - in fact, by getting all torqued up, then you, yourself, can't perform your give task, that of consistently and repeatedly throwing a ball into a small glove from far away, a task that takes skill, concentration, muscle memory and a certain amount of relaxation.  When he tenses up, his concentration and relaxation go away, thus his skills and muscle memories (release point, delivery, grip, pacing) go out the window.

Then he's walking off the mound, having given up the lead and five runs to a bunch of clowns.  He left with us behind, and thank God we came back last night, but this IS the problem with him.  Yes, he has great talent, and great passion for the game.  We love him for both.  But the YMCA's are full of guys with ability who could not control their emotions.  He rarely loses games because his physical stuff just isn't there. Most games he loses, it's because he loses his mental edge, and whether Kurt thinks I hate the guy or not, I don't, but because he loses his self-control, he will never be our go-to guy.

It's like the guy who was tested with the genius IQ who is now 45 years old and has been stuck at the same job level the past 15 years, because he wears his heart on his sleeve, and his higher-ups have passed him over time after time for promotions because his occassional emotional outbursts do not exactly engender confidence.  They won't put him in charge of anything, because he's a "loose cannon" who might say or do the wrong thing.

At the same time, you don't fire him, because what he does do for you, between phone arguments with his ex-wife and the entire weeks staring at his computer screen because his heart is pounding, is often quality work.  Plus, you know you'll never find anyone better who will work for the same money.  Um, I think I'll stop this particular analogy, now.

But that is why I wouldn't just unconditionally give up on Zambrano, as the local media is lining up to do.  He has value, both as a player and as an entertainer.  I would just never, ever depend on him to be my Staff Ace.   

Game Recap: Cubs 13, Brewers 7

Game Recap
I have to admit I'm getting more than a little tired of the Chicago media and their stir tactics.  Honest to God, if they hadn't written their "will Milton Bradley be a douche in 2009" series back in March, chances are decent that he wouldn't have been.  And now Carlos is under the scope, fueling the fire that Rob has already lit here on GROTA.

With apologies to Rob -- but none to the Tribune writers -- Carlos is not a problem and does not need to be traded.  But don't take my word for it -- Bruce Miles wrote this epic that very effectively points out why we're a bunch of douche-bags for criticizing Zambrano but giving passes to the other dopes who act like he does.

As for the game last night, the Cubs had the most unusual bout of offensive supremacy I've seen all year.  They scored 13 runs, and 6 came from Things Other than Hits -- a sac fly by Carlos in the 4th, a bases loaded Hit by Pitch in the 6th, a fielding error in the 6th, a bases loaded walk in the 7th, a bases loaded Hit by Pitch in the 7th, and then a bases loaded walk in the 8th.  Weird.

In total, the Cubs had double digits in hits -- 11 -- but, more impressively, they actually had more walks, with 12 for the day.  Every Cub got on base at least once, yes Madisoncubaholic, even Milton Bradley, and 8 total Cubs had RBI. 

In the meantime, Carlos had a pretty good game, but an incredibly ugly 5th inning.  He let the Brewers do all their damage on 2 outs, but he would have left with having allowed 3 earned runs -- and in line for the win -- had Ryan Theriot not botched a play that would've ended the inning. 

So, because Carlos had a bad inning, does that add fuel to the Trade Zambrano fire?  I say no.  I understand Rob's frustration about the situation, even as I question his concept of what an ace pitcher does -- and with Clemens at the top of the list, I could rattle off a long list of "aces" who do not, nor did they ever, fit his description.  I understand that we all hoped, nay, expected greater things from the Big Moose in 2009, and after an on-and-off year in '08 we've now forgotten how well he pitched from '03-'07, as if he'll never be a 15 game winner again.

Anyway, with the Cubs win last night they now find themselves 5.5 games behind the Rockies in the Wild Card, and 4 games out in the loss column.  Just thought I'd point that out, too.

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