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There's plenty of reality and a bit of fabrication behind Carlos Zambrano's sizzling start for the Miami Marlins.
Start with the good: He's reportedly a calmer person and is practicing his faith with more devotion. Z's new demeanor has helped him focus on the field.
He apparently has a rapport with John Buck, who complimented the movement of Zambrano's pitches Monday. Ask Michael Barrett about the right-hander's history with his backstop partners.
Opponents' swinging-strike percentage went from 6.7 last year to 10.2 in this partial season; Zambrano's decrease in nibbling has improved his control. The tipping point has been the increased involvement and downward movement of his sinker and split-finger fastball, his two primary weapons thus far. The cut fastball, a former staple, remains effective in its sparse deployment; saving it probably makes it more effective, and the greater horizontal movement of that and the slider have had similar positive yields to those of his diving offerings.
Said descending pitch slopes have contributed to his opponents' ground-ball spike along with their fly-ball and liner decreases, a positive mix considering his bout with a bloated HR/9 last year. He has been capable of suppressing the long ball throughout his career. Marlins Ballpark has played somewhat pitcher-friendly, too, which goes in line with correcting Zambrano's brief issues with taters.
Now, behold the warning signs. Any starting pitcher with a left-on-base percentage of 88.2 percent not in the Roy Halladay class has a giant flashing red light on his forehead. Zambrano is also relying on an increased outside-the-zone swing percentage and a lower off-the-plate contact rate from his enemies; it's possible that'll hold, but a correction there, in either facet, could start a regression. Also, advanced metrics don't praise the Marlins' defense, so his long-term reliance on them is shaky.
Zambrano has long been the type to outpitch his peripherals, Fielding Independent Pitching, etc. Luckily for him, he's on the right track for making his expected stats much better than in previous seasons. Even with a drop-off or if no one bites on a trade offer, there's enough here to reward him with a spot in the top 50 mixed starting pitchers, with the upside for the top 30 or so.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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