Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Did I Offend The Wrong Zambrano?

  • Um, sorry Victor?

If you heard my podcast appearance of Friday with Sal at SportsFanBuzz and listened to Part II discussing the National League (here's Part I on the AL), you may or may not remember me mistakenly referring to Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano as Victor Zambrano. Considering the perceived abilities and careers of the two pitchers, it was an on-the-surface insult to Carlos Zambrano----or maybe it wasn't.

My mistake may have been an insult to Victor because after Carlos's odious performance against the Braves yesterday, he might actually be worse than Victor.

Here's the line----and it may be more of a terrifying horror film than the upcoming re-make of A Nightmare on Elm Street starring Jackie Earle Haley (Kelly Leak in The Bad News Bears, enjoying a career resurgence in middle-age). Freddy Krueger himself would've been mortified by Carlos yesterday.

Avert your eyes if you're weak of heart/stomach.

Innings pitched: 1 1/3

Hits: 6

Runs: 8

Earned runs: 8

Walks: 2

Strikeouts: 1

Home runs allowed: 2

Pitches: 49; Strikes: 28

This is an Oliver Perez/Fausto Carmona-type performance for a pitcher who's owed a guaranteed $53 million and has the stuff to win 22 games.

How Cubs manager Lou Piniella keeps from attacking Zambrano as he did with Rob Dibble years ago and appeared at times to want to do with Randy Johnson is beyond me. I can only shake my head at Carlos Zambrano. Usually there's an obvious reason for a pitcher's struggles; but with this pitcher, I haven't the faintest idea what's wrong with him.

In the past he's lacked focus; concentration; location; been unable to control his temper; hasn't been in shape----or all of the above. It's one thing to get rocked----it's opening day; in the cosmic scheme of things it's essentially meaningless----but to be thoroughly non-competitive and deliver a line that I could've provided at age 38 and with a giant bone chip in my elbow and having not picked up a baseball and thrown it competitively in 16 years, is panic-inducing for the Cubs.

What makes it worse was his supposed dedication to being ready for 2010. Last season, Carlos was counted on to be the ace of a Cubs team in flux; he got injured and was admittedly out of shape and lapsed on his rehabilitation. He was a major part of the Cubs fall to also-ran status as he went 9-7 in 28 starts.

As trade rumors swirled around him this past winter, he insisted he wanted to stay with the Cubs; that he wanted to redeem himself.

Then he pitched on opening day.

Of course there's time to turn things around. Carlos has the stuff to be a winner; but then again so do Oliver Perez and Fausto Carmona; and so too did Victor Zambrano, as a matter of fact.

Stuff doesn't always translate into success; and unless Carlos truly gets his head together and makes the required changes, things are only going to get worse.

If that's possible after what happened yesterday; and it may not be.

  • Jayson Heyward's explosive debut:

Prized and impressive prospect Jayson Heyward homered in his first big league at bat for the Braves yesterday and only increased the intensity of coverage that will follow him around.

The 20-year-old has mega-star potential; and he's done nothing to dissuade observers from buying into the hype that's included comparisons to Willie Mays.

It's still smart to tone it down a little.

Putting someone on such a high pedestal is a very difficult thing to live up to and maintain; Heyward is from the Atlanta area; is a worshipped entity even before his big league career has started in earnest; and is seen as a savior for a club that desperately needs him to hit if they want to seriously contend.

We've seen the hype machine from the Braves before with Jeff Francoeur and Jordan Schafer and both were nearly run out of town when they showed themselves to be human. Heyward is far more talented than both; but that doesn't mean he's not going to have adversity as he makes his way around the league. One would think the club and town had learned their lesson; but judging from the way Heyward has been played up as the next Hall of Fame-caliber player, they haven't.

It's an invitation to a downfall no matter how gifted the player is.

  • Josh Beckett agrees to a contract extension with the Red Sox:

Now I'm annoyed.

Already one of my predictions in my book has been proven wrong with Beckett agreeing to a 4-year, $68 million contract extension with the Red Sox----ESPN Story.

I felt that Beckett was going to want to explore free agency and go after a contract comparable in dollars and length to what C.C. Sabathia got from the Yankees. Even in this economy, it's not absurd to think that Beckett could've gotten an extra 3-4 years in a contract from a big market team like the Mets, Angels or Dodgers. Given his durability and reputation as a post-season ace (he's one of the best big game pitchers I've ever seen), he could've gotten more money.

Instead, he signed with the Red Sox for four more years.

This is an interesting decision by the club.

In years past, the Red Sox have been reluctant to commit so many guaranteed dollars to pitchers. So many things can go wrong with a pitcher that they did have an argument for refusing to dig so deeply into the coffers for pitching. Now, they've locked up John Lackey; Jon Lester; and Beckett for the next four years. Lackey and Beckett are both 30, so it's a risk; Lackey especially has had arm trouble. Only time will tell whether this was the smart move; but it was a meeting in the middle by both the club and the pitcher.

  • The Prince on the Podcasts:

In case you missed them, I was a guest on two podcasts this past weekend.

First, I was on with Sal at SportsFanBuzz. The Podcast links are available here---- Part I and Part II on Friday; then Sunday with Mike Silva at New York Baseball Digest. The link is here: NYBD Podcast. Fast forward to 1 hour and 36 seconds to hear my "sexy rasp" and baseball talk that some would love to hear all...day...long. (Not my words.)

And of course, my book is still available. Even though the season's started, that doesn't diminish the book's use. It's a guide, not a preview. Check it out. It's been slightly marked down on Amazon and available on I-Universe in paperback and E-book.


She-Fan said...

I only saw highlights of Heyward's debut, but he looked way scary. The analysts compared his swing to Winfield's but I see Strawberry's in there too.

Jeff said...

I have said it over and over, time and time again: Carlos Zambrano is NOT an ace, and the Cubs deserve to be ridiculed for paying him as if he were an ace.


Halladay is an ace. Beckett, an ace. Carpenter, an ace.

Carlos? An ass.

Bravesbloggerinlawschool said...

The cases of Schafer, Francouer and Heyward are all pretty different. Schafer is the most obviously different. There is this perception that won't go away that Schafer folded under the pressure of expectations. That's not remotely true. He... Broke... His... Wrist. Which is kinda, sorta important for swinging a bat. Yes, he's not totally without blame because he tried to play through it without telling anybody just how much it was bothering him. But that's far different from folding under the pressure. He's still probably the CF of the future for the Braves, but combining this with the HGH suspension, he's missed a lot of time and probably needs another full year in the minors before he will be ready again. However, I pretty much expect Schafer and Freddie Freeman to be on the big club some time next year. Schafer will probably be up some time late this year if his continued rehab and minor stint go well.

Francouer was always more a product of the outside media than the inside media. He had a great smile, looked like a baeball player and was popular with the hometown fans, especially the females. Maybe the Braves rode this a little bit at times, but they were never the ones putting it out there. Notably Brian McCann was the one they believed in and offered the long term deal to, not Francouer. Upper management always viewed him as a talented, but seriously flawed player. There was hope he could correct his flaws, but that hope faded, especially with Heyward on the horizon. He was called up as much for defense as he was for his bat. Everybody in the FO knew he wasn't going to maintain his rookie year breakout. He hit well over .400 on balls he put in play without hitting a lot of homers. Say what you will about stat geeks, but that's impossible to maintain. The FO can't be overhyping you when they refuse to give you a long term contract because of an 18 year old in rookie ball, and that was precisely the case with Francouer.

Finally I'm not worried about Heyward's mental approach to the game. From all reports, he's as solid mentally as they come, very much like Tommy Hanson. Dude seems to thrive under it more than fold under it. It was a pretty surreal experience to see him walk up to chants of his name, in his first at bat, take two pitches (you think in a million years Francouer takes two pitches in his first AB of the majors?) and then kill a ball 446 feet. You might as well count two predictions in your book as wrong because Heyward WILL win ROY. It's not going to be close.

So three totally different cases. Schafer was injured, the Braves were just hoping to ride mediocre offensive production out of Francouer until Heyward arrived and Heyward is the most fundamentally sound mega talent I've ever seen. He does EVERYTHING the right way. Sure he will have slumps, but it will never be because he's a flawed player like Francouer was and still is. It will be because that is baseball and he'll take his walks and pull out of the slump.