So I was reading a sports blog written by two of my friends from high school, when I came across this article: http://www.downswinging.com/wordpress/2009/06/zambrano-to-retirein-a-few-years/, which, paired with pieces like this and this have caused me to reach the breaking point. I am really sick of people ripping on Carlos Zambrano from everything ranging from his attitude to his interaction with the media. The fact of the matter is: the man produces great numbers every single year, so get off his goddamn back.
It seems that everyone loves to point out that Carlos is a loose cannon who is overly emotional and who needs to mature, etc. However, they seem to ignore the fact that for all his antics on and off the field, Carlos has been the most dependable player on the Cubs roster since 2002. Also, they ignore the fact that these “tantrums” are not born out of immaturity–they are the result of an unrivaled competitiveness and passion for winning and the game of baseball. On the pitching side of things, he is always prepared for his starts to such a point that the Cubs have asked him to tone down his routine (especially his consumption of red bull) on the days when he starts. He does not lack focus, like some people think he does. And unlike other pitchers, Carlos takes as much pride in his hitting as he does in his pitching. He wants to be good in all aspects of the game and his desire to be an excellent all-around player is evident when you look at his offensive numbers. Carlos is not an automatic out like nearly all other pitchers and last season, you could argue that he was more dangerous than the likes of Fukudome (in the 2nd half of the season) and Theriot. His complete mastery of the game could not have been achieved if he was not a dedicated professional. If he lacks “focus” and “maturity” like some people think, then how the hell did he become the ace of the Cubs staff, a perennial Cy Young candidate, and one of the best pitchers in game?
Carlos is easily the most competitive and professional player on the Cubs roster and as such, I really do not mind his on-field incidents. They show me that he has high expectations for himself: he wants to pitch well and win every time he goes out on the hill. When he starts to bash Gatorade coolers, yell at umps, break bats over his knee, and fight Michael Barrett, he is releasing all the anger and frustration that is created from a poor day on the hill or in the batter’s box. He is angry at himself for a lackluster display and for letting the team down. It is not the cry for attention or display of immaturity that people think when they see it, it is the ultimate sign of a competitor who demands nothing short of the absolute best.
And since he took the league by storm with his sensational 2002 season, Carlos has been nothing short of “the absolute best”. He is the perfect model for consistency and durability during the course of the season. He hasn’t posted an ERA over 4.00 since his 2001 season, when he was a 20 year old rookie who pitched just 7 and 2/3 innings and posted an ugly 15.26 ERA during a very premature stint with the Cubs. Furthermore, since he was moved to the rotation full time in mid 2002, he has been able to take the ball every 5th day and eat up innings. Most young arms cannot handle the immense strain that manager Dusty Baker subjected Zambrano to (ie. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood), but Big Z managed to stay healthy, defy the odds, and continue to pitch excellently. It is only recently that he has had to deal with any sort of injury issues, but even injuries have not affected his performance on the mound.
Though he has a tendency to lose his feel for the strike zone and thus build up massive pitch counts and walk batters, he is able to get out of jams by either striking the batter out (his career K/9 ratio is an impressive 7.76 batters per 9 innings) or by getting ground balls with his heavy, bowling ball-esque sinker, 2-seamer, splitter and slider. He excels at keeping the ball in the park, a feat which is even more impressive when you witness how much like Coors Field Wrigley can be when the wind is blowing out like it usually is. Despite all the walks, though, Zambrano still has a very respectable career WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched) of 1.29. Ignoring this season (which is not finished) and his 2001 and 2002 seasons (where he was a raw 21/22 year old pitcher who had been promoted very aggressively throughout the Cubs minor league system and thus had only accumluated around 460 innings in the minors since he was signed as a 17 year old out of Venezuela), he has posted WHIPs of 1.33 or under in every season.
Big Z may have emotional and sometimes violent blowups, which are invariably blown out of proportion and become the source for severe criticism, but that does not deny how good of a player he is. People focus on these supposedly negative incidents and thus tend to forget how dominant of a pitcher (and hitter by pitcher standards) he really is. They see the outpouring of emotion as a negative action, when in fact, it is really a positive. It proves just how badly he wants to win and how committed he is to ending the Cubs title drought. So to all his critics, i say: “please, for the love of God, give Zambrano the fair treatment he deserves by focusing on more than just his outbursts”.