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Reader Writes: The Next Superstar
by Alex Ciepley
Cub Town is open to reader submissions of work; if you have a baseball-related writer's itch that needs scratching, just drop me or Derek a line.
Like many Cubs fans, Brandon L. Chizum likes what he sees in Cubs' opening day starter Carlos Zambrano. Brandon submitted a piece to Cub Town with his thoughts on Big Z, and it's a good way to get in the mood for the first game of the season.
--- The Next Superstar by Brandon L. Chizum
While glancing over various rosters for soon-to-be superstar players, it seemed natural to come to a halt upon reading "Carlos Zambrano." His positive pitching attributes clearly outweigh his negatives, and with his prior performances for one of the most recognized clubs in all of the sporting world, he seems a lock, barring injury, for a stellar 2005 season--and one in which he receives the accolades due him. This season will serve as Carlos's stardom outing, one during which he proves that he is an elite starter, a number one on most teams in the league. Carlos is like Wal-Mart stock after the public discovered its worth.
Zambrano stands 6'5" and weighs over 250 pounds. Bulky, but not overweight, his body has handled the workload that Dusty Baker has dished out these past two seasons. Carlos threw 423 innings during the 2003 and 2004 campaigns, and he did so without injury. His survival may be attributed to his owning such a large body and being in shape; just look at Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens for similar physiques. If Carlos can keep his mechanics in check, there is little reason why throwing 200+ innings should present a problem.
Carlos is only 23, and won't turn 24 until June. If he can stay healthy, it's quite possible that we will be treated to ten more years of his energy-laden pitching. The experience he will gain during his major league tenure is certain to be invaluable, especially while sitting next to future HOFer Maddux at this point in his career. Don't be surprised if he is given the opportunity to start the Cubs' next five Opening Day games--youth + experience = a dangerous veteran in a few years. Many baseball writers and fans know that terrific pitching is a vital component to winning, and Zambrano's presence in the Cubs' starting rotation certainly brightens the horizon for Chicago's front office and Wrigley faithful.
Zambrano throws at least three pitches: a cutter that serves as a sinker, a two-seam fastball, and a slider. And he throws each of them very well. Quite a number of starters in the Majors only own two pitches, let alone three, and because of Zambrano's youth, it is probable that he will learn a fourth pitch during his MLB tenure and supplement his repertoire that much more. Besides, Carlos throws hard and he seems to be throwing without thinking--think Nuke LaLoosh after heeding Crash's advice. And when a pitcher of Zambrano's stature is throwing in the upper 90s, and doing so without fear of anyone, it is hard not to dominate.
Zambrano's win totals increased from 2003 to 2004, as did his strikeout to walk ratio, making it highly likely that we are witnessing the maturing of a player who will become better with experience. It seems as if each time he takes the mound, we know the opportunity for a no-hitter is present, fist-pumps and points-to-God and all. It must also be noted that Wrigley is not the extreme hitter's park many fans believe it to be, and because Zambrano is a groundball pitcher, he is stingy with home run balls, losing only fourteen pitches to the seats in 210 innings last season. Now whether the Cubs can manufacture runs for their pitching staff, that's a different article.
A caveat must be issued here, however. As mentioned earlier, Carlos has thrown over 423 innings these past two seasons (winning 13 and 16 games, respectively), partly because he handles the work with ease, partly because of his age, and partly because his manager doesn't believe in saving the pitcher. Baseball Prospectus deems Dean Chance a good comparable for Zambrano at this point in his career, and it's not a bad comparison if you look at the numbers, but Chance's demise so early in his career is a bit concerning.
As it stands, only time will tell what effect the 200+ innings per season will have on Carlos's arm. He has shown no signs of wear and tear to this point in his career, though at times when he's frustrated, his mechanics do loosen a bit, a cause for momentary concern until his focus is corralled. As we age, we learn from mistakes and move on. Well, Carlos will do the same thing on the green grass of Wrigley, and do so with fervor. Beginning with this season, he will become an elite starter in this league, so mark your calendars for his starts. It's going to be a great summer.