Monday, May 01, 2006

the answer is yes

a disquieting series loss to the milwaukee was put into the books this weekend with the young brewers outscoring the northsiders 27-8. another beautiful start for greg maddux was offset by another ugly performance for glendon rusch (who subsequently has lost his spot in the rotation), sending the rubber match to a rainy sunday at wrigley with carlos zambrano squaring off against year-ago 18-game-winner chris capuano.

this page recently posed the question, "is it time to worry about carlos zambrano?" -- and this writer, in light of what he witnessed yesterday, is now without reservation in saying that it is well past time. zambrano's start ran just four innings but 103 pitches on the day after rusch squeezed six and a third out of the cub bullpen -- mercilessly exposing the lack of bullpen depth on this club as david aardsma, will ohman and roberto novoa each allowed three runs in two inning stints, relegating the cub bullpen down to the lower half of the national league in era for 2006 through sunday's games even as it jumped up to 3.47 innings/game, the most in the nl, now on pace for a league leading 561 innings. given this, one can hardly fault dusty baker for trying to coax more from zambrano as he fell apart in the fifth -- but zambrano steadfastly refused to record an out while allowing four extra base hits and three walks before being finally lifted for scott williamson.

zambrano line after six april starts stands at 33.2 innings, 33 hits, 20 earned runs, 25 walks, 38 strikeouts, six home runs, a 5.35 era, .256 baa and 1.72 whip. this page searched every month that zambrano has been in the majors as a starter to find that there have been a couple of other similar months -- june 2005 and august 2002, at least. but this page cannot help but consider what a terrible oddity such a catastrophic month is for this fine pitcher even with that context. his previous high for walks allowed in any month was 19 (june 2004); he only once before allowed more home runs in a month (seven -- in the last month of last year, which is hardly encouraging); he has never run such a high whip over any month.

following his fourth start this year, this page previously noted a dip in zambrano's velocity and the worrying lack of location. observation of his fifth start assuaged some fears -- while zambrano seemed a touch slower than in years past, it was not radically so.

however, watching sunday, this writer became quite glum as he watched zambrano quickly descend from a fine first into periodic struggle and finally total futility. by the second, zambrano's customary movement had become erratic, his ball running abnormally straight as he laid on the gas to carlos lee, who deposited it in the bleachers. by the third, the movement was consistently missing and his arm slot began to vary -- another run on two hits and his first walk.

but the fifth was a truly disturbing thing to watch. zambrano was clearly trying to throw hard strikes, but had neither the velocity to match his considerable effort nor the consistency of mechanics to provide control. mentally, he quickly went into a funk -- disgust and disdain clearly written on his face, you could tell he really wanted to be anywhere else well before baker emerged from the dugout. particularly considering how remarkable his movement and location had been in the opening inning, this writer found the speed of his decay remarkable.

hard effort not matched by top velocity. poor control and variable mechanics. early inning success devolving quickly with more pitches. this writer for one sees these as potentially very troubling signs from a pitcher who was last year already exhibiting signs of onset arm trouble, laughably dismissed by the cubs as "internet elbow". zambrano's use under baker has usually placed him among baseball prospectus' most abused pitchers in recent years.

could it be that baker's chickens of 2004 and 2005 are coming home to roost again much as 2003's have in wood and prior? it remains to be seen, of course -- but this page feels the odds have probably turned in favor of it being so, having watched zambrano struggle now with location, velocity and movement. perhaps zambrano comes out over the next month and pitches with his former vigor, settling the matter and proving this tea-leaf-reading wrong. this page for one certainly hopes so. but there is certainly now more room than ever for concern.

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