Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Anatomy of a Meltdown
2006-04-14 08:23
by Derek Smart

Here's the sequence of yesterday's edition of Big Z Freakout Theatre, as I think it happened:

  1. He starts the third walking David Ross on five pitches. He's been adamant about trying to reduce his walks this year, as he sees it as the final piece to the puzzle of his greatness, so this is likely a bit galling. Not enough to make him completely nuts, but it's the first push on a boulder sitting at the cliff's edge.

  2. Eric Milton lays down a bad bunt, and Carlos pounces on it, throwing Ross out at second. Now, here's where I think things start to unravel for Carlos: his throw, while good enough to get the lead runner, is high, and while it's a reach to say the play could have resulted in two outs with a better toss to Cedeno at the bag, I'd be willing to bet that Zambrano thought he could have gotten the DP if he hadn't rushed his throw, and now he wants to erase the runner from the paths at all costs, which brings us to....

  3. The inexplicable decision to attempt a pickoff throw to first with the pitcher, Eric Milton (aka: Portside Lightning), standing at the sack. Not only was Lee not covering the bag, leading to Z's eventual throw being called a balk, but even if Derrek was there, Milton is barely a threat to go to second on a homer, let alone steal a base. I have to believe that making that throw was a manifestation of the frustration that had begun to mount as early as the walk to Ross - an impairment of both judgment and concentration due to the overwhelming power of his emotions.

  4. From here, it's nothing but downhill, as Carlos has gone from having his emotional state make him stupid, to having it undermine the physical nature of his work, resulting in the immediate plunking of Ryan Freel, and culminating in the horrible pitch on a 3-1 count that Felipe Lopez rightly banished from the yard.

And there's the ballgame. Certainly, other mistakes were made - Bob Howry didn't help matters with the bomb he gave up to Austin Kearns in the eighth - but this contest boiled down to Zambrano's inability to retain his focus, and his tendency to let little things snowball into gigantic issues through the sheer force of his emotional immaturity.

Z talks a lot about wanting to reduce his walks and sharpen his concentration to reach the next level of pitching excellence, but more and more I get the feeling that what he really needs to do is simply grow the hell up.

2006-04-14 08:49:42
1.   rynox
So what did we learn yesterday?

Maddux's (1.46 ERA) 86 MPH fastball, well placed, is better than Z's (4.86 ERA) 97 MPH fastball with mediocre location.

2006-04-14 09:44:48
2.   joe ginto
good analysis, Derek. Since 2003 we've been hearing about how Carlos is young and he's getting better at harnassing his emotions. The fact that he tried to pick Milton off of third base two innings later tells me he hasn't learned anything about putting things behind him.

His fire and candidness make him one of my favorite Cubs, but I'm getting a bad feeling that the Carlos we see is what we're going to get long term. Thus far he's led the season off with three clunker starts and the Cubs won't do a thing this year without Carlos being in top form for the majority of the season.

2006-04-14 10:01:39
3.   The Boar
I hear what you're saying, Joe, but I disagree. Although excitable on the mound, it wasn't really his emotions that got him into trouble yesterday -- just bone-headedness. The pickoff attempt at 3rd, the balk, hitting a batter -- he wasn't getting over-excited as he had in the first two games, but just making some mental mistakes.

I think it is encouraging that Z seems pretty mature off the mound. His post-game comments always seem to reassure me that he's begun to turn the corner on maturity:

"I was concentrating all the time, and I left some pitches in the middle and they hit them well," Zambrano said. "That's what happens when you don't locate your pitches."

"I was lost on that play," Zambrano said of the botched pickoff. "I lost concentration. I thought [Lee] was on the bag. That was a mistake."

"[Perez] gave me the sign to pick off Milton, and I think I threw a little bit hard," Zambrano said. "If that throw is lower, I think Neifi catches the ball. That was a mistake, also."

"I made too many mistakes in the games -- throwing, fielding, pitching," Zambrano said. "So far, this season has been weird to me. I can't worry about that. I have to worry about the future and cut some of my pitches per inning, and that's what we'll do. I have 30 more starts to go."

"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," Zambrano said. "We have to move on. I have 30 more starts. This doesn't bother me."

2006-04-14 11:04:19
4.   Cubdom Byron
"but more and more I get the feeling that what he really needs to do is simply grow the hell up."

Thats harsh Derek, but there seems to be more than a grain of truth in that statement. Excellent analysis, I'm going to go back and watch this inning later to see if I agree with you.

2006-04-16 20:59:20
5.   dan the fan
I can't help but wonder if Carlos is telling us the truth when he says Neifi gave him the pickoff sign.
Why on earth would Neify try to pick off Eric Milton from 3rd base?
That looked to me like another impulsive irrational move made out of frustration.
Neifi sure didn't looked like he expected it when he got all tangled up w/ Milton and pushed him down by the face.
It's as if sometimes carlos wants to win so bad, and is so hard on himself that he will try to do the impossible. Sometimes it leads to heroic performances, sometimes it's just stupid: like when you try to make the triple by the opposing pitcher into an out.

As frustrating as it is, you have to be able to laugh at Z sometimes.
That mutherf--ker's crazy!

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