Carlos Zambrano is apparently fine with the Cubs moving him to the bullpen … for now.
He reportedly told manager Lou Piniella that he’d like to rejoin the rotation in time for the playoffs, which is both interesting from a strategic standpoint and wishful thinking from a Cubs player.
Here’s what Piniella said about Zambrano’s request:
He did mention that. The playoffs are a long, long, long way away. Let’s just get through April right now. Let’s not put a time frame on it, let’s not do that. We need help in the eighth inning role right now and that’s what we’re trying to help ourselves in.
Zambrano is expected to be available out of the bullpen Saturday, which is when Ted Lilly comes off the disabled list to rejoin the rotation.
Piniella has made it clear that Zambrano will be used as Carlos Marmol’s primary setup man, working mostly in the eighth inning and for just one inning at a time. “We want to use him short and we want to use Marmol short,” Piniella said. “An inning, or an inning and a third.”
I’d still probably bet on Zambrano ending up with more starts than relief appearances this season.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.