Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Transaction Oracle > Discussion
Transaction Oracle
— A Timely Look at Transactions as They Happen

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Marlins - Acquired Zambrano

Florida Marlins - Acquired P Carlos Zambrano and $15 million from the Chicago Cubs for P Chris Volstad

This is a deal that I understand from the Cubs point of view even if it is one I don’t think I would have made. The Cubs don’t figure to be very good (to put it mildly) in 2012 and the odds are against Zambrano making a substantial on-field contribution. He’d also likely become the focus of the fans discontent (assuming he was to pitch and be an expensive mediocrity) and there’s every reason to think that wouldn’t go down well.

So pay the Marlins to take him and pick up a young pitcher who’s been a disappointing sub-mediocrity in return. Volstad is not 25 yet and already has 102 major league starts split across 4 years. The thing is that reaching the majors young is nowhere near the indicator of future success among pitchers as it is among position players.

Of course you never know with pitchers. Maybe he can add a pitch. Maybe he has a mechanical flaw that can be corrected. The thing is that you can say that about any pitcher and there are plenty of other pitchers that have a better foundation than Volstad to build on. He’s been a (just over) replacement level nibbler (acceptable control and a strikeout rate that isn’t terrible) and there’s no particular reason to expect more. Volstad is arbitration eligible but I can’t imagine this concerns the Cubs this year. And if he happens to be in line for a hefty raise in 2013 that’s good news. It will mean he pitched unexpectedly well.

Zambrano on the other hand is a formerly good to excellent pitcher in steep decline. He’d be among the pitchers I see as having the widest range of possible outcomes even if healthy. ZiPS projects him for a 96 ERA+ with just over 7 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched, poor control and a likely injury. OK, I’ll buy that as the single most likely guess and if that’s what’s in store you can certainly see why the Cubs would have no hesitation (beyond writing that check to the Marlins) about moving him.

He’s overpaid for his most likely upside (an ERA+ in the 115-120 range, somewhere around 8 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched with more walks than you’d like) but that’s of no concern for the Marlins. There is a very expensive option for next year but it vests only if Zambrano is healthy (whatever that means. I’m sure it involves getting a medical sign-off) and finishes 4th or higher in the Cy Young voting. Given the way the Marlins have acted in this off-season I don’t think they’d be too disappointed if the option does vest. I’d be prepared to bet heavily against this of course, but you have a talented and very proud man who may well be very motivated. That’s been the basis of many a bounce-back season.

Of course the reason he’s on the move is the off field stuff. The Marlins are adding one more volatile personality to a very interesting mix. I’m reaching way back, but the situation this most reminds me of is John McGraw and Mike Donlin. Now I’m not saying that Zambrano is an angry drunk who beats up actresses. Donlin was actually more volatile than Zambrano. The point is that he was a very talented guy that McGraw thought was worth the bother of dealing with. And for the most part it worked out as well as he could have hoped. I don’t think Ozzie Guillen is all that worried about having to deal with Zambrano (or Logan Morrison or Hanley Ramirez) and I think he has a better shot than most managers of getting the best out of Zambrano. Or the absolute worst. Whatever—it rates to be interesting at minimum.

Ron J Posted: January 05, 2012 at 01:58 PM | 34 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Related News:

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Dan The Mediocre Posted: January 05, 2012 at 03:32 PM (#4029635)
This really glosses over a lot of things that went wrong last year. The loss of Rothschild seems to have hurt the pitching quite a bit. The team also did poorly as a whole, and it seemed like a lot of guys had quit near midseason. Zambrano wasn't the pitcher he was in the past, but this was the first time he was below average as a pitcher, and even then contributed nearly 2 wins with his pitching and his bat. I see him as a big bounceback candidate, and is likely to again contribute 3 or 4 wins for this team. That he was expensive wouldn't matter, he's almost certainly going to be better than Soriano.

The issue is whether or not the clubhouse would welcome him back. If so, then trading him is a terrible idea. He's likely to be worth his salary.
If not, then you have to trade him. His performance going forward is at best a very secondary concern, and even then it's much more likely to be good than bad.
   2. Ron J Posted: January 05, 2012 at 03:50 PM (#4029652)
As I said Dan, it's a deal I understand even if it's one I don't think I'd have made.

However, on the subject of his bat: He was a few miles over his head last year. It'd be stupid to expect anything like .318/.348/.500

He's a really good hitter for a pitcher, but his career OPS+ is 64 and that rates to translate to something close to .4 wins in the playing time ZiPS estimates. That's a nice little plus of course.

   3. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: January 05, 2012 at 03:53 PM (#4029659)
According to the article on ESPN, Zambrano agreed to waive the vesting option. Not sure why he would, but there you are.

I do think he's a bounceback candidate as well, and I really don't understand this move unless it's purely a PR one.
   4. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: January 05, 2012 at 03:53 PM (#4029660)
For a guy viewed as a stat guy Theo has made a couple of pretty high profile moves that had at their core clubhouse issues now. Nomar and Manny in Boston, now Zambrano.

If I were Theo I probably would have held onto him and hoped that he pitched well enough to be appealing at the trade deadline. If the ASB rolled around and he was 7-5, 3.25 or something like that he probably would have been one of the big tickets at the deadline.
   5. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: January 05, 2012 at 03:55 PM (#4029661)
He's a really good hitter for a pitcher, but his career OPS+ is 64 and that rates to translate to something close to .4 wins in the playing time ZiPS estimates. That's a nice little plus of course.

So, how good a hitter would a replacement level SP have to be to be league average?
   6. 'zop sympathizes with the wrong ####### people Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:10 PM (#4029677)
So, how good a hitter would a replacement level SP have to be to be league average?


Better than Micah Owings, who's a pretty textbook example of a replacement level SP who can really hit.
   7. McCoy Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:15 PM (#4029682)
Volstad has already added a pitch. He added the slider in 2010.
   8. McCoy Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:19 PM (#4029684)
The issue is whether or not the clubhouse would welcome him back. If so, then trading him is a terrible idea. He's likely to be worth his salary.
If not, then you have to trade him. His performance going forward is at best a very secondary concern, and even then it's much more likely to be good than bad.


This is going to be a clubhouse full of guys that are going to lead the Cubs to 100 losses this season. I don't know if I would value the "clubhouse" all that much this year. With or without Carlos it is going to be a mess in there.
   9. Bourbon Samurai in Asia Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:21 PM (#4029686)
As part of the deal Zambrano waived his vesting option, which was probably the key for Theo. He might be a nice trade chit at the deadline, but not if he's got a 19 million salary hanging out there for 2013.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:23 PM (#4029687)
Better than Micah Owings, who's a pretty textbook example of a replacement level SP who can really hit.

Yeah, I guess the big issue is the limited PAs.

In an 80-85 PA season, Zambrano is getting about +11 runs from position and replacement level. So, a pitcher who's a league avg. hitter is going to gain 1.1 WAR from batting.

To be average, he'd need to get +9 runs from batting/baserunning/reached on errors/dp avoidance. But if he could be +9 in 85 PA he'd be a monster hitter, and you'd want him playing everday at another position.
   11. McCoy Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:30 PM (#4029693)
As part of the deal Zambrano waived his vesting option, which was probably the key for Theo.

Why? The only way it vests is if Zambrano is healthy at the end of the year and finishes in the top 4 of the CYA.

Theo just gave the Marlins Zambrano for free. If he pitches so well that he actually places 4th or better in the CYA then they got tremendous value for absolutely nothing. But Zambrano isn't going to finish 4th or better this year and in order to do so he would probably have to pitch like Koufax to do it.
   12. zonk Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:37 PM (#4029701)
I really think people are understating how problematic Zambrano's antics have become.

I mean - you have the whole gamut here.... multiple physical altercations with teammates... multiple ejections and on-the-mound meltdowns with umps... Acting crazy and "retiring"... How many suspensions does he have? Is it more than Milton, Manny, and pick 3 other players combined once you include league and team suspensions?

Where's Backlasher when you need him - because this is one instance where the numbers on paper have a big, gigantic, enormous blindspot to a real problem.
   13. Dan The Mediocre Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:37 PM (#4029702)
However, on the subject of his bat: He was a few miles over his head last year. It'd be stupid to expect anything like .318/.348/.500

He's a really good hitter for a pitcher, but his career OPS+ is 64 and that rates to translate to something close to .4 wins in the playing time ZiPS estimates. That's a nice little plus of course.


Over a full year that's over a win.


This is going to be a clubhouse full of guys that are going to lead the Cubs to 100 losses this season. I don't know if I would value the "clubhouse" all that much this year. With or without Carlos it is going to be a mess in there.


If nothing else, it doesn't matter in the long run but lets fans believe something will change. I wouldn't have done it for so little return unless I thought that it risked impacting someone like Castro.
   14. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:41 PM (#4029709)
Theo just gave the Marlins Zambrano for free. If he pitches so well that he actually places 4th or better in the CYA then they got tremendous value for absolutely nothing. But Zambrano isn't going to finish 4th or better this year and in order to do so he would probably have to pitch like Koufax to do it.

Yes, and if a team is trading for him for a pennant race, I think they'd gladly accept the risk of a CY Young caliber season triggering the option.
   15. Dan The Mediocre Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:42 PM (#4029710)
I really think people are understating how problematic Zambrano's antics have become.

I mean - you have the whole gamut here.... multiple physical altercations with teammates... multiple ejections and on-the-mound meltdowns with umps... Acting crazy and "retiring"... How many suspensions does he have? Is it more than Milton, Manny, and pick 3 other players combined once you include league and team suspensions?


If you're Theo, why not give it a shot to try to curb this behavior? Sure, it failed with the previous regime, but so did most things. At worst, you release him half way through a season where you won't compete anyway(and don't have many players that look to be on the next good Cub team). At best, you get a great performance out of him and maybe pave the way for an extension.
   16. McCoy Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:43 PM (#4029713)
If nothing else, it doesn't matter in the long run but lets fans believe something will change.

Which they could have accomplished during the season as well. It wasn't like they had some small window in which to accomplish this.
   17. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:48 PM (#4029721)
Over a full year that's over a win.

I don't think so. ZiPs projects 138 IP.

Full year is 5-6 runs.
   18. zonk Posted: January 05, 2012 at 04:50 PM (#4029723)
If you're Theo, why not give it a shot to try to curb this behavior? Sure, it failed with the previous regime, but so did most things. At worst, you release him half way through a season where you won't compete anyway(and don't have many players that look to be on the next good Cub team). At best, you get a great performance out of him and maybe pave the way for an extension.


If Zambrano's pitching performance hadn't been on a precipitous and noticeable slide for a good 5 years now, I might... but he's not 25 anymore. He's 30. And going the wrong direction.

Again - he's not eating chicken and playing nintendo in the clubhouse during games... He's punching teammates, bumping umpires, and doing everything short of stripping naked on the mound and using Starlin Castro as kindling to light his uniform on fire.

But that might be coming.
   19. Dan The Mediocre Posted: January 05, 2012 at 05:19 PM (#4029769)
I don't think so. ZiPs projects 138 IP.

Full year is 5-6 runs.


I didn't mean what ZiPs projects, I meant an actual full year.

EDIT: Oops, looked at the wrong thing. It's about 7 or 8 runs, not 11.
   20. Ron J Posted: January 05, 2012 at 05:30 PM (#4029787)
Dan, I think you're overrating the value of his bat. To date he's been worth 5.3 wins in 1826.2 IP. That's a full win every ~345 innings. He hasn't pitched 200+ innings since 2007. .6 wins is a realistic estimate if he gets 30 or so starts. (with the typical high variance that goes with the relatively small same size)

It's just really hard to add a ton of value in a relatively small number of at bats. Particularly since he's not an absolutely good hitter, merely an extremely good one by the low standards of a pitcher.

EDIT: Oops too. Your edit went in while I was posting this.
   21. I Am Not a Number Posted: January 05, 2012 at 06:01 PM (#4029820)
There is going to be a lot of Spanish cussing in that Marlins' clubhouse this season. Maybe Ozzie can bring Oney along to tweet about it for the rest of us.
   22. Athletic Supporter can feel the slow rot Posted: January 05, 2012 at 06:29 PM (#4029845)
Don't worry, I'm sure Keefe will keep us posted.
   23. Walt Davis Posted: January 05, 2012 at 07:31 PM (#4029895)
Oh stop it Zonk.

Carlos has been suspended once by MLB for 6 games (1 start) for blowing up at an umpire. Standard stuff. That was in 2008. (Unless I missed something).

He has been "suspended" twice by the Cubs. The Cubs "indefinitely suspended" him for about a month after the scuffle with Lee. Given it was a scuffle in the dugout, broken up by the pitching coach, it is unlikely the league would have done anything about that -- that was the Cubs. Returning from the suspension, he made 11 starts with a 1.41 ERA.

In 2011 he was suspended by the Cubs for 6-7 weeks. This was after throwing a few pitches at Chipper and getting tossed (and then "retiring", etc.). The league obviously would have taken action there, fairly severe by "throwing at guys" standards, but probably nothing worse than 2 weeks (I can't recall a pitcher ever being suspended for longer than that in such an incident but someone here can enlighten me).

Zambrano has had a lot of "suspensions" because the Cubs have unilaterally suspended him.

   24. zonk Posted: January 05, 2012 at 08:00 PM (#4029921)

Zambrano has had a lot of "suspensions" because the Cubs have unilaterally suspended him.


With or without cause?

He wasn't suspended for the fight with Barrett, if memory serves.

He was also suspended by the league in 2009 - though perhaps we're talking the same suspension... BBREF doesn't seem list suspensions - and THAT'S THE POINT!!!.

Every year since 2008 - he's had an "incident" that either did or perhaps would have/should have earned a suspension.

And the outbursts have gotten more and more severe and bizarre every year.

His behavior long ago reached the point where you have to account for it somehow and to me - this isn't being taken into account by folks who are thinking they could have got more for him.

His behavior has reached the point and consistency where it's ceased to be a "maybe he'll stop" and a "we might have calculate in at least couple or more starts lost to behavior".
   25. Something Other Posted: January 05, 2012 at 08:03 PM (#4029922)
I really think people are understating how problematic Zambrano's antics have become.

I mean - you have the whole gamut here.... multiple physical altercations with teammates... multiple ejections and on-the-mound meltdowns with umps... Acting crazy and "retiring"... How many suspensions does he have? Is it more than Milton, Manny, and pick 3 other players combined once you include league and team suspensions?


If you're Theo, why not give it a shot to try to curb this behavior? Sure, it failed with the previous regime, but so did most things. At worst, you release him half way through a season where you won't compete anyway(and don't have many players that look to be on the next good Cub team). At best, you get a great performance out of him and maybe pave the way for an extension.
I don't get why people don't get it. Zambrano is hugely unlikely to suddenly start acting like a mensch and bring anything positive back to the Cubs. Epstein is trying to rebuild an organization that has largely gone to shite and the only thing Z can do is muddy the effort to change things. The Cubs are not going to sign him to an extension even in the unlikely event that he isn't a complete jerk. They aren't going to get back some organization changing haul if Zambrano lucks into a good first half. In the unlikely event that happens the Cubs will get back a B prospect. Why would you aim for that--which ain't all that impressive a return--when the downside, which is more likely, is that your main aim gets distracted from, and your organization continues to be a running joke?

   26. Bob Evans Posted: January 05, 2012 at 08:33 PM (#4029933)
He wasn't suspended for the fight with Barrett, if memory serves.

If memory serves, his teammates gave him dinner, a plaque, and a gold watch for that one.

He's a cancer when he's bad and fun when he's good. He's not good.
   27. Stately, Plump Buck Mulligan Posted: January 05, 2012 at 11:12 PM (#4030030)
With Zambrano gone, which brown player will play DS (designated scapegoat) for Cubs fans in 2012?
   28. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: January 06, 2012 at 12:38 AM (#4030076)
Since the subject has come up, I'd like to repeat my belief that pitcher hitting is a commodity that tends to be undervalued and a place where a team could gain a significant, if modest, advantage over its opponents with relative ease.


He's a really good hitter for a pitcher, but his career OPS+ is 64 and that rates to translate to something close to .4 wins in the playing time ZiPS estimates. That's a nice little plus of course.


If you could get your top five pitchers, through a combination of drafting, signing, and development, to hit with an OPS+ of 64, that would gain you something like 3 extra wins over the course of a season. A 64 OPS+, for comparison, is the career average of Neifi Perez. I don't think that would be impossible at all, if you tried to do it consciously. You'd face no special competition for such pitchers, for sure.
   29. Ron J Posted: January 06, 2012 at 02:40 AM (#4030134)
#28 I've had discussions about this for years (going back to the 90s with Dale Stephenson)

The basic problem I think is that it's just plain more work to hit major league pitching than we as outsiders can appreciate.

I know that for years Cincinnati tried to gain an edge on other NL teams by not allowing their minor league teams to use a DH. And they gained nothing from it (that I could see at any rate)

It's not implausible though that you could take (say) a bad hitting outfielder (a guy who was going to wash out) with a good work ethic and teach him a knuckleball. I don't think the success rate would be all that high, but it really wouldn't need to be. You're risking nothing more than a roster spot in the low minors. (And you get the bonus that if it works you're likely to have a good hitting pitcher)
   30. Something Other Posted: January 06, 2012 at 08:50 PM (#4030863)
I would have liked to see the Mets, instead of folding one of their low minor teams, to fill the roster instead with the best twelve to fifteen knuckleball prospects and see if they could develop a couple who would make the majors.

Would have been fun, anyway.
   31. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: January 07, 2012 at 12:05 AM (#4030962)
If you could get your top five pitchers, through a combination of drafting, signing, and development, to hit with an OPS+ of 64, that would gain you something like 3 extra wins over the course of a season. A 64 OPS+, for comparison, is the career average of Neifi Perez. I don't think that would be impossible at all, if you tried to do it consciously. You'd face no special competition for such pitchers, for sure.


Where are you finding all these mythical creatures. I know Neifi-level offense doesn't sound impressive, but here is the list of pitchers who have over 60 OPS+, with a min of 500 PA's since 1971:
Name             PA  OPS+
HamptonMike    845 67
Zambrano
Carlos 708 64 


And Zambrano was at 59 before this season.And you want to find 5 of them at the same time? Trying to sign an actual Centaur to play SS might be a better strategy.
   32. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: January 07, 2012 at 12:44 AM (#4030988)

Where are you finding all these mythical creatures. I know Neifi-level offense doesn't sound impressive, but here is the list of pitchers who have over 60 OPS+, with a min of 500 PA's since 1971:


My point was that teams don't attempt to develop such pitchers. Pitchers spend almost zero time practicing hitting, and if they do, it's bunting. If by chance they draft a pitcher who was a semi-decent pitcher in HS or college, those skills immediately begin atrophying.

It should also be stressed that performance is relative. Dempster's career OPS+ is -37. Kerry Wood's is 15. Going from a Dempster to a Wood is a bigger jump than going from a Wood to a Zambrano. Two pitchers with apparently similar pitching stats could easily have a difference in batting of 40 or 50 OPS+. No reason not to take the better batter, especially since they will command similar salaries.
   33. Something Other Posted: January 08, 2012 at 01:05 AM (#4031507)
Look, you're not going to find five pitchers who are as good as the next five pitchers in your system but who can hit well enough to add three wins. You're not going to send your pitchers out for hours and hours of batting practice every week, particularly the ones who can actually pitch. For the, what, 800 hours of additional batting practice you're going to give this five man rotation how many additional injuries are you going to create? How many fractured pinkies, hip strains, how much hbp damage are you going to sustain? How much are you going to lose here and there because your pitchers are majorly distracted from the one thing you want them focused on?

It's a nice idea, but it's unworkable. Among other things, you'd have to convince college managers to keep their pitchers getting a ton of batting practice, otherwise you're going to be trying to make up for a few years of lost time, which alone is likely to be fatal to a pitcher's development as a hitter.

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
BFFB
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Syndicate

Page rendered in 0.2752 seconds
66 querie(s) executed