In 2009 I wrote that Carlos Zambrano cannot win with the media or fans. It turned into an article about just how good Zambrano had been in his career with the Cubs. Despite that, it had been done with much hatred toward him. The following February I turned it into an annual piece. The 3rd Annual article was written here at Obstructed View in mid April. Zambrano is now gone so it seems appropriate to publish the 4th annual look at how good he’s been. It will be, in all likelihood, the final one I do.
Baseball Reference’s Play Index is a fabulous tool, which doesn’t cost much money and I’ve found to be more than worth it. I’m beginning this by looking at the last decade (2002-2011).
Zambrano’s ranks 19th in baseball among starters with 800 or more innings. It’s just behind Justin Verlander and ahead of Cliff Lee. His 124 ERA+ is tied with Verlander and just behind Cole Hamels and Randy Johnson. Only 11 pitchers have thrown more innings.
His Batting Average allowed ranks 10th. Only five pitchers allowed a lower slugging percentage: Tim Lincecum, Brandon Webb, Jason Schmidt, Roger Clemens and Ubaldo Jimenez. His .680 OPS Allowed ranked 17th, just behind behind CC Sabathia and Tim Hudson, but ahead of Cole Hamels and Randy Johnson.
Only Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson have a higher rWAR than Zambrano. Actual pitching wins? You know, something fans have said he can’t do. He ranks 10th best.
Since 2002, only 10 Cubs pitchers have thrown 400 or more innings. Zambrano’s 32.7 WAR is more than double of the second higher (Kerry Wood). Granted, Z threw a lot more innings, but longevity matters. If you take the bottom 5 of those in WAR, they have been worth only 6 more WAR than Zambrano has. Those pitchers are Carlos Marmol, Matt Clement, Randy Wells, Sean Marshall and Greg Maddux. Zambrano’s 124 ERA+ is tied with Mark Prior and trails only Marmol’s 132, which has been accomplished as a reliever. Zambrano’s winning percentage is .611 (tops).
Z’s 122 ERA+ ranks 14th among pitchers who started 85% of their appearances and have thrown 1200 or more innings. Z’s .235 batting average allowed is 11th best. His slugging allowed is 15th best, just behind one of the greatest pitchers I’ve ever seen in my life: Dwight Gooden. His OPS allowed is 46th best over the last 60+ years. He ranks 73rd in WAR. If you added in his contributions with the bat it would be better. Still, he’s been the 73rd most valuable starting pitcher over the last 60+ years.
Among Cubs players and using the same parameters, but dropping it to 800 minimum innings pitched, Z has the best ERA+ since 1950. His batting average allowed is the best. Slugging allowed is 3rd best. OPS allowed is 4th best. Only Fergie Jenkins and Rick Reuschel have provided more value (rWAR) than Zambrano.
Using a 1500 IP minimum and 85% of appearances as starts, only 27 pitchers have a better ERA+. He’s 31st in winning percentage. He ranks 90th in WAR since the beginning of the American League era.
Looking at just Cubs players and using the same parameters except an 800 IP minimum, only Jack Pfeister, Jake Weimer, Pete Alexander, Hippo Vaugh, and Jack Taylor have a better ERA+ than Zambrano. Only Pfeister and Weimer have a better winning percentage. Only Jenkins, Rick Reuschel, Alexander, Bob Rush and Vaugh have more rWAR than Zambrano.
Z’s 122 ERA+ ranks 37th in all of baseball history among pitchers with at least 1500 innings (started 85% of appearances). 37th, yo. His winning percentage is 40th best. And in the entire history of Major League baseball only 118 starters have a higher rWAR than Zambrano. Think about that. After 135 years there have been only 118 starting pitchers who have been more valuable than Carlos freaking Zambrano.
Among Cubs players who started 85% of their games and threw at least 600 innings, Zambrano’s ERA+ ranks 9th all-time. He also ranks 9th in winning percentage and rWAR. 8 Cubs starting pitchers since 1876 have been more valuable than Carlos Zambrano in a Cubs uniform.
It’s a shame so many people missed the very good career Zambrano put together in favor of hating him for some reason. People talk about stats guys missing the fun in baseball. Well, it seems to me most Cubs fans missed out on one of the better starting pitchers the Cubs have ever had. There must be a lot of stats oriented Cubs fans and I’m not one of them.
Zambrano wasn’t without his faults. Who is?