Thursday, January 5, 2012

Letting Go of the Big Z

As of this writing, the deal isn't 100% done but like the rest of us, I found out early this morning that the months-long "Zambrano to the Marlins?" rumor just lost its question mark and it's now certain that Zambrano is headed for the Miami Marlins in exchange for Chris Volstad.

This isn't really an analysis-based post...The Flagrant Fan has broken down this trade very efficiently in this post, which is so far the best and most humble assessment of the pending transaction, starting with Scrabble, confirming my own belief that Volstad's updside outweighs Zambrano's risk, and ending with my similar lament of the absence of Zambrano's killer bat. Pitchers who can hit are sexy; Zambrano is one of the best hitting pitchers I've ever seen.

Beyond this, I think Chris Volstad is a very good pitcher - here are 2 games I've got on record featuring his work:

7/31/2009 CHC 2, FLA 5 - I scored this game from a WGN Radio broadcast, Volstad held his own against Rich Harden (who struck out 11 and walked 3)...Harden left the game after th 5th inning and 2ER, Volstad had the Cubs handcuffed until the 7th when Jake Fox' 2-run HR tied the game at 2. It was Carlos Marmol who blew the game apart and allowed the Marlins to win.

8/27/2010 FLA 7, ATL 1 - This was the 4th game of our BIL Tour 2010 baseball trip, where Tommy Hanson gave away HR as the Turner Field gameday promotion. Volstad wasn't necessarily all that and a bag of chips (it was Hanson's game to lose, and he did) but he did last 8 innings and only gave up 1 run, which is just fine.

As for Carlos Zambrano, I'm not going to lie...I will miss him quite a bit. When he was good, he was magical... obviously, that's the Big Z I will miss the most. When he was bad, he was abysmal...and that's baseball, especially if you're a pitcher. Zambrano was consistent in his greatness and badness, this gave my enjoyment of his games a truly heightened sense of gut-wrenching drama. Carlos Marmol comes close to this, but only for one inning and at the end of a game. Zambrano delivered the drama throughout, whether it was 2 innings or 7, you never knew when he would explode...or not. I will never forget his nonchalant, cap-off-brow-wiping attitude on the mound; you could never tell how he felt about how he was doing, great or horrible. I can't tell you if he will ever be remembered as one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball but for me, he certainly will be.

In 2009 and 2010, I watched and/or listened to Zambrano pitch in 12 games that I scored. He started 9 of them, won 4 of those games, and lost 3. It’s a small sample size, but so is Carlos Zambrano. Think what you want of him, of course, but set aside his public emotional outbursts for just a moment. He has been and will be one of my favorite pitchers, and also one of my favorite Cubs.

I also saw him start against Louisville native and ex-Cub Todd Wellemeyer and the St Louis Cardinals at Wrigley on August 9, 2008, I didn’t score this game but remember it well as it was the day that I pitched the idea of the BIL Tour to Mark and he bought in. The Cubs took the series, but Zambrano only lasted 4.1 innings, allowing 10 hits and 9 ERs, 4 of those hits were HR. Here’s a picture I took of Big Z at bat during the 3rd inning of that game (sorry about the screen), and another picture of his solo HR trot that followed that plate appearance…
Theriot congratulates Big Z with a pat on the neck…

Now that I’ve written all that, bring back into focus his public meltdown episodes…baseball drama at its finest. Or maybe weirdest. Coincidence reigns, as the day we find out the Zambrano era with the Cubs is probably over is also the same date in 2009 that Milton Bradley became a Cub. His flair for the dramatic wasn’t nearly as much fun as Zambrano’s, you can’t really compare.

I’m sure he’ll be fine with the Marlins, although I wonder what ever happened to his July 2009 sentiments that he would retire at the end of his contract; he pulled this one again after his August 2011 meltdown, but Zambrano just can’t retire. He wants to compete, and maybe he wants to work with Guillen and the Marlins to help bring him to a place that the Cubs couldn’t. You might feel the same way if you worked under guys like Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, and Mike Quade…but maybe you wouldn’t.

At 30 years old, Zambrano is a lot more like many of us are (or were) at the same age, sans being a Venezuelan millionaire starting pitcher. I don’t believe that Zambrano’s temper or temperament was a key contributor to his struggles over the past few years, but rather they are just pieces of a psyche that belongs to a passionate individual who still doesn’t know what his destiny is, but is very much attached to the large amount of money he makes to be in this state of mind, and therefore takes it out on Gatorade machines in the dugout.

Wikipedia: Carlos Zambrano was the only NL pitcher to have won at least 13 games in each year from 2003-2008.

I’m going to miss him, yes…but I have moved on. As a Cubs fan, I’m ready for a change. Zambrano’s probably been ready for a couple of years, but pride kept him from being more proactive about this.

Butch succumbed to “pride” in Pulp Fiction and ended up a winner (any time you can leave a movie script riding on a ‘chopper,’ you are a winner). Hopefully Zambrano can do the same, now that he’s making what is probably going to be the best move in his career to date.

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