Carlos Zambrano is weary of discussing his surprising conversion from ace of the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation to late-inning reliever. Moving a pitcher making nearly $18 million this season into a setup role has been the talk of Chicago for more than two weeks, and Zambrano is talked out.
"There is nothing left to say," Zambrano said. "I'm in the bullpen. It's where my team needs me, and I'll do the best job I can until they trade for somebody to take my place and I go back to starting." However, Zambrano was willing to give a simple explanation of how he approaches his new job. "I know I'm only going to be in the game for an inning or two, so I just let it go and try to get everybody out," he said Tuesday night after the Cubs lost 3-2 to the Pirates.
Zambrano has made just three relief appearances thus far, but the stats show his approach out of the 'pen has been drastically different.
According to Pitch f/x, Zambrano is throwing his four-seam fastball 57.9 percent of the time as a reliever as opposed to just 16.5 percent of the time in his four starts this season.
Further breaking down Zambrano's pitch selection as a reliever, he has thrown 17.1 percent sinkers, 11.8 percent changeups, 7.9 percent cut fastballs and 5.3 percent sliders. As a starter, Zambrano was more concerned about pitching to contact, as he threw 33.3 percent sinkers and 26.6 percent changeups with 16.5 percent four-seamers, 15.0 percent sliders, 5.5 percent cut fastballs and 3.0 percent split-finger fastballs. After relying heavily on his off-speed stuff as a starter, he has basically shelved his breaking pitches out of the bullpen. Considering he doesn't have to worry about pacing himself, Zambrano is also throwing a tick harder, as a reliever as his four-seamer is averaging 91.7 mph, compared to 90.7 mph as a starter.
Zambrano has allowed one run in four innings in his three relief appearances after going 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA as a starter. More notable is that the Cubs are 8-5 since moving him into the bullpen after starting the season 5-9. Furthermore, the Cubs have won all three games in which Zambrano has appeared as a reliever.
"It's seemed to have given our entire team more confidence since we put Z in the eighth-inning role," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "We feel like we're going to win the games we should win now, and that means a lot. Just check our record. You don't make a move like this lightly. You do it because you think it gives you the best chance to win games, and it's working out very well for us."
John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus.