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Cubs deal Zambrano to the Marlins

Posted by John Autin
ESPN is reporting that Carlos Zambrano has been traded to Miami for Chris Volstad. The Cubs will also pay $15 million of the $18 million owed to Zambrano for 2012.

Over the past 5 years, Zambrano has been paid almost $85 million -- more than any other pitcher but Johan Santana. In return, Big Z delivered 12.2 bWAR, a highly inefficient rate of about $7mm per WAR. He averaged 170 IP and 12 wins in that span, and ranked as follows among all MLB pitchers:

  • 36th in WAR;
  • 42nd in IP;
  • 37th in SO;
  • 45th in SO/9 (among SPs with 500+ IP);
  • 26th in Wins.

But that's all water under the bridge. The relevant questions looking forward include:

  1. Who got the better pitcher?
  2. How might Zambrano and Volstad be affected by their new environs?
  3. Does this move the Marlins substantially closer to contention?

A head-to-head comparison of Zambrano and Volstad for 2011 alone might surprise you (Zambrano's numbers given first):

  • IP -- 146, 166
  • IP/GS -- 6.07, 5.71
  • SO/9 -- 6.2, 6.4
  • BB/9 -- 3.5, 2.7
  • WHIP -- 1.44, 1.42
  • HR/9 -- 1.2, 1.2

Zambrano has only known one home park, and has not shown a significant home/road split, unless you put a lot of stock in wins and losses:

  • Home, 3.70 ERA, 52-44 record (.542);
  • Road,  3.50 ERA, 73-37 record (.664).

Zambrano's record against his new NL East foes is neither voluminous nor telling. He's generally pitched well against the Mets and Nationals (combined 14-6, 3.35 ERA), not so great against the Braves and Phillies (combined 6-9, 5.25). He beat Atlanta in his first 2 tries, way back in 2002, but hasn't won in his last 11 starts against them.

Volstad's home/road splits are similar to Zambrano's -- little difference in performance (ERA 4.60 home, 4.59 road), but big gap in outcomes (record 15-24, .385 at home, 17-15, .531 away).

Listening to Buster Olney's report, I had to chuckle when he said that, if nothing else, Zambrano might be "an effective innings-eater" for Miami. Innings-eater? Big Z hasn't reached 190 IP since 2007, averaging 158 IP in his last 4 years. In the last 2 years, he never had a complete game nor 3 straight games of 7+ innings.

I think the Marlins come out slightly ahead on this deal, but only because (a) the Cubs ate most of the salary (and got Z to waive the $19mm vesting option for 2013), and (b) Zambrano has a higher established ceiling. Volstad has never shown, at any level, the kind of results that might be expected of a mid-1st-round draft pick. I think it's likely that the two will have very similar value in 2012, but I can see at least a slim chance of a significant comeback year by Zambrano.

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