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Entries in Carlos Zambrano (4)

Monday
Jun042012

Big Z's Sinker Key to Comeback

Carlos Zambrano kept the Miami Marlins in a three-way tie atop the NL East standings on Sunday, limiting the Phillies to one run over 7.2 innings and belting a 431-foot homer for good measure. Big Z, shipped out of Chicago this past winter after one too many tirades, has far more pop than most pitchers (his 24 career homers tie him with Bob Gibson and Walter Johnson for fourth all-time among moundsmen). But he has turned his career around in Miami by preventing big flies.

The 31-year-old has cut his home run rate in half (from 1.2 HR/9 in 2011 to 0.6 this season) and has improved his ERA+ from 80 last year to 145 in 2012. The key to Zambrano's comeback is his sinker -- he's using the pitch more, busting hitters inside more often and getting grounders at an elite clip.

In 2011, Zambrano used his sinker a little less than 30 percent and had a ground ball rate with the pitch that was slightly below the 53 percent average for starting pitchers. With the Marlins, he's throwing his sinker more than 40 percent of the time and waging a ground war:

YearPct. Sinkers ThrownGB Pct.
2011 29 52
2012 41 61

 

Zambrano has allowed just one home run and is limiting hitters to a .376 slugging percentage with his sinker this year, compared to eight homers and a .489 slugging percentage in 2011. Big Z isn't just throwing the pitch more often; he's mixing up his location as well. Check out his sinker location to righty batters in 2011, and then 2012:

Zambrano's sinker location to RHBs, 2011

Zambrano's sinker location to RHBs, 2012

Zambrano is busting right-handers in on the hands more often this season, increasing his percentage of sinkers thrown inside from 28 percent to 37 percent. Same deal against lefties:

Zambrano's sinker location to LHBs, 2011

Zambrano's sinker location to LHBs, 2012

Big Z has doubled his percentage of sinkers thrown inside to left-handers from 13 percent last season to 26 percent in 2012.

Zambrano's stock dropped markedly in recent years, as he devolved from the power arm of his early twenties to a low-octane starter lacking great control and gradually losing the ability to keep the ball down. But, armed with a bat-busting sinker, Big Z's career prospects are looking up.

Thursday
Jan052012

Hitters Teeing Off on Big Z's Heat

I can't wait for the third and final season of HBO's Eastbound & Down to start in February, but Kenny Powers' antics might look downright prudish compared to what goes down in the Miami Marlins' clubhouse next year. You've got a brand new park arousing SEC suspicion, a manager in need of a three-second tape delay, two star shortstops on the left side of the infield, an Elvis-impersonating closer, and a Twitter-loving left fielder. And now, add Carlos Zambrano to that South Beach powder keg.

The Cubs shipped Big Z to the Marlins for young but lefty-and-homer-prone starter Chris Volstad. Chicago will cover $15 million of Zambrano's $18 million salary for 2012 (no word on whether the Cubbies will chip in for the extra Gatorade dispensers and Louisville Sluggers the Fish will inevitably need). Zambrano waived a $19 million option for 2013 that would have vested if he finished in the top four in Cy Young voting.

While Big Z was once good for 200-plus innings and a sub-four ERA, he's a far cry from Cy Young form these days. The 30-year-old right-hander is coming off his worst season in the majors, striking out a career-low 15.9 percent of batters faced, surrendering a career-high 1.17 HR/9 and posting a career-worst 4.59 Fielding Independent Pitching in 145.2 innings before calling it quits on August 12 after a five-homer outing against the Braves. Volstad actually had a lower FIP, at 4.32.

Zambrano's on-field woes can mostly be traced to his heat. His fastball didn't miss nearly as many bats as usual, and his sinker, well, didn't.

In 2009, hitters slugged .381 against Z's fastball and missed the pitch 16.6 percent of the time they offered at it. Zambrano's fastball was even better in 2010, limiting batters to a .242 slugging percentage with a 21.6 miss percentage (those are just his numbers as a starter, to make an apples-to-apples comparison). But in 2011, opponents teed off to the tune of a .513 slugging percentage and they missed Z's fastball just 11.5 percent. Lefties were especially troublesome, slugging .589 and missing just 10.4 percent of fastballs swung at. Z has lost some zip on the pitch, averaging 90.2 mph compared to 90.6 in 2010 and 91.5 mph in 2009.

In '09 and '10, Zambrano did a good job of limiting contact on fastballs thrown at the knees or at the tip of the strike zone. Check out his fastball contact rate by pitch location, compared to the league average:

Zambrano's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2009-2010

Average fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2009-2010

This past year, though? Zambrano was seeing red just about everywhere in the zone, and that was particularly the case in the lower half:

Zambrano's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2011While Z's fastball got hit more often and harder, his sinker refused to stay down. Zambrano threw about 14 percent of his sinkers high in the strike zone in 2009. That increased to 25.5 percent in 2010 and spiked to 28 percent this past year (the average for starters is about 23 percent).

With Zambrano putting more sinkers on a tee, opponents' slugging percentage against the pitch climbed from .343 to .444 to .489. Those high sinkers are the ones hitters scorched last year:

Opponents' in-play slugging percentage vs. Zambrano's sinker, 2011

Zambrano threw fewer fastballs and sinkers than usual in 2011 (a combined 50.5 percent, down from around 54 percent the two previous years), yet 13 of the 19 homers he coughed up came on those pitches.

The Marlins aren't taking much of a financial risk in adding Zambrano to a rotation that already includes Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Mark Buehrle, and the club's new stadium may well play as a pitcher's park that aids Z in keeping the ball in the park. But if Zambrano doesn't miss more lumber with his fastball and get his sinker to sink, Miami could regret giving up three years of Volstad for one year of mercurial mediocrity.

Monday
Jun062011

Carlos on Carlos - The Marmol and Theriot facts

After watching Carlos Marmol blow a 9th inning lead to the Cardinals on Sunday, Carlos Zambrano let loose a barrage to the gathered reporters. Marmol, who has blown saves in Zambrano's last two outings, threw a slider to Ryan Theriot with a 2-2 count and the tying run on first. Theriot, who said he was "looking for a slider the whole time", ripped it into the left-field corner for a game-tying double. Albert Pujols won it with a 10th inning walkoff. 

Zambrano said Marmol should have thrown Theriot a fastball, but instead gave him a slider. "We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter, we should know that as a team," Zambrano said. "We stink. That's all I have to say."

Let's look at some facts:

Batters are hitting .219 against Marmol this season. Yes, that is up considerably from his lifetime .177 BAA but still pretty good.

The fastball is a mixed bag for Marmol:

Marmol has thrown 198 fastballs. Batters have swung and missed on 21.9%.Batters are 10-for-21 against the Marmol fastball, a .476 avg.

The slider is Marmol's out pitch.

Marmol has thrown 277 slidersBatters are 8-for-71 against the Marmol slider, a .113 avg.

Next comes Ryan Theriot...

Theriot against the slider:

Theriot has seen 132 sliders this seasonAgainst the slider, Theriot is hitting .478, 11-for-23.

Against the fastball:

Theriot has seen 480 fastballsRyan is  33-for-107, good for a .308 average.

Bottom Line:

Ryan Theriot is a hot hitter. He has a .300 average this season and in his current 19-game hitting streak is hitting .333. Yes, he hits sliders better than fastballs, but the slider is Marmol's best pitch.

Should Marmol have thrown the slider? That's for you to decide.

Should Zambrano have spoken out? That, I have already decided and my answer is, "No."