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Scouting Pitchers: Carlos Zambrano and Erik Bedard

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Statistics as of 6/15/08

After a week off - sorry for the delay - let's take a closer look at El Toro ("the Bull") and Bedard. After some rough games in the second half of 2007 around when he signed a five-year, $90 million contract extension, Zambrano has made strides this season in his control and efficiency. He is currently 8-2 with a 2.98 ERA. He ranks second in the NL in innings (99.2), fourth in wins, is fifth in winning percentage (.800) and has the eighth-best ERA. Bedard has been a disappointment since coming over from the Orioles in a pre-season blockbuster deal that cost Seattle Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman and two other players. He missed a couple of weeks in April with an inflamed hip and is 4-4, 4.14 in 12 starts. Bedard has struggled badly on the road (1-2, 7.40 in five starts).

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. Please feel free to post your comments below on these columns. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

The Cubs signed the right-handed Zambrano (6-5, 255, born 6/1/1981) in 1997. After one year in the rotation in Low-A in 1999 (13-7, 4.17 in 153 innings), Chicago put him on a super-fast track through the minors in 2000, when he started nine games at Double-A before finding himself in the Triple-A Iowa bullpen by June. Zambrano returned to Iowa in 2001 and sparkled as a starter (10-5, 3.88, 155 strikeouts in 151 innings) as the Cubs showed a little patience.

Zambrano alternated excellent with awful games in his rookie season in 2002 as a swingman. He broke through in 2003 as he led a Cubs rotation that included Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Matt Clement in innings (214) while going 13-11, 3.11. Zambrano didn't win in his three postseason starts (5.40 ERA) as Chicago lost the NLCS to Florida. He was very consistent in 2004 as he allowed three or fewer earned runs in 23 of his 31 starts and ranked fourth in the NL in ERA (2.75). Forearm cramps, neck irritation and Dusty Baker's high pitch counts didn't stop him from taking the ball and winning (16-8).

Zambrano fanned 202 in 2005 and 210 in 2006, but his walks crept up to a career-high 115 in 2006. He has struggled against lefty-heavy teams, and in his career has walked 334 left-handed hitters in his 214 games (193 starts) as opposed to 242 right-handed hitters. Zambrano threw the fourth-most pitches in baseball in 2006 (3,629) after ranking sixth in 2005. He led the majors in pitches in 2007 with 3,695 and currently ranks second to Jeremy Guthrie. Zambrano was an All-Star in 2004 and 2006 and undoubtedly will be selected this year.

2007 was a roller coaster, as he stated in spring training he would leave at the end of the year if he wasn't signed to a long-term contract. Zambrano carried a 5.62 ERA after his first 12 starts before giving up just 14 runs in his next 12. He signed his contract in August in the middle of a poor spell, but righted himself and finished strongly down the stretch. Zambrano lost the opener of the NLDS to Brandon Webb.

Carlos Zambrano: (G/F 1.26)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	70		70
Curveball	55
Slider		65		25
Splitter	55		5
Changeup	55
Control	55
Delivery	55
Composure	55

Zambrano threw in the upper 90s when he first came up and is reliably at 91-95 MPH with his four-seam fastball. He throws a cut fastball with virtually no change in velocity. Zambrano also has one of the heaviest sinkers in the game that he can run either away from or in on hitters at 84-87 MPH, as he reveals to Harold Reynolds in this YouTube video clip. Most pitchers have movement one way or the other on their fastball if they are lucky. Zambrano has both on his sinker and cutter. He uses a 77-85 MPH slider as his primary off-speed pitch and mixes in an 86 MPH splitter. He's difficult to scout because his four-seam and cut fastballs look alike, as do his splitter and sinker. It appears Zambrano has mostly junked his curveball and changeup.

Zambrano lives up to the overused saying "he throws nothing straight." Batters don't center the ball off him because he throws everything hard and has so much late movement on his pitches. Zambrano has allowed just four homers all year and is averaging well less than a home run per nine innings in his career. When Zambrano is locked in, he generates a stream of ground balls, popups and strikeouts. This explains why he has a career ERA of 3.38, including a 3.46 mark at Wrigley Field.

Zambrano throws from both low and high three-quarters arm slots. He spends most of his time in the low three-quarters, as his pitches move the most from this angle. He comes over the top to add velocity. Zambrano is tough and stubborn, as he doesn't like to give in to the hitter and too often will try for a strikeout instead of challenge a hitter. He is as animated a pitcher as you will see, especially if he is struggling, when he paces around the mound, snatches at thrown and batted balls barehand, spits and chomps on his gum, and yells at himself. Manager Lou Piniella reminded Zambrano to calm down in his June 2 start in San Diego after he struggled with his command and was visibly upset. Zambrano was coming off eight innings and 130 pitches on May 28.

The Cubs' success this year has rubbed off on Zambrano, who has used the fewest pitches per inning (15.6) of his career and has walked just 32 in his first 13 starts. Improved infield defense has resulted in 12 double plays already when he has averaged 18 DPs per year from 2004-2007. Zambrano generated 24 DPs in 2003 when he had the highest G/F ratio (2.28) of his career.

While Zambrano has a history of minor lower back problems, he has made at least 30 starts in the last five years and has developed a reputation of indestructibility. His motion is stiff but fundamentally sound, and his slight loss of velocity is typical of someone who is approaching 1,300 innings. While Zambrano has yet to win a Cy Young or even a playoff game, his time may come this year. Bill James estimates him as having a 30% chance of becoming a Hall of Famer.

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Baltimore selected the left-handed Bedard (6-1, 180, Born 3/6/1979) with a sixth-round pick in 1999 from a Connecticut technical college. He was raised in a small farming community in Ontario, Canada. Bedard went 20-8, 2.79 and struck out 309 in his first two-plus seasons through 2001. After a cup of coffee with the Orioles in April 2002, he was outstanding at Double-A for the first half (6-3, 1.97). Tommy John surgery reared its ugly head and sidelined him for a year.

Bedard took the mound again in August 2003 and nearly reached the majors that fall. He spent most of 2004 in the major league rotation and went 6-10, 4.59 with 121 strikeouts and 71 walks in 137 innings. Bedard was more consistent in 2005 (6-8, 4.00), although he missed two months with a strained left knee. He broke through in 2006 (15-11, 3.76), and his excellent second half (3.10 ERA) paved the way for a dominating 2007.

To put Bedard's 2007 season in perspective, consider he allowed 23 earned runs in his first six starts (6.09 ERA) - and then 35 in his next 21 starts (2.22 ERA). On July 7th, Bedard fanned 15 Rangers (six looking) during a two-hit shutout. He finished the year third in the AL with 221 strikeouts despite missing the last month with an oblique injury. The Mariners acquired him on February 8th, 2008 and signed him to a one-year, $7 million deal a week later.

Erik Bedard: (G/F 0.96)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	60		60
Curveball	70		35
Slider		N/A
Changeup	45		5
Control	60
Delivery	55
Composure	55

Bedard's fastball was 90-92 MPH in the minors, but at his most dominant in 2007 he reached 93-94 with pinpoint control. After coming back from the hip injury this year, he has been back at 90-92. Bedard's fastball command to both sides of the plate and his 75-80 MPH curveball made him an elite pitcher. He can work inside to right-handers like few left-handed pitchers. His curve has an 11-to-5 break and he can put it in any quadrant of the strike zone when he's on. Bedard has a substandard 80-81 MPH changeup that he uses infrequently.

Bedard's biggest problems this year are his command, lack of a third pitch and his health. Bedard is missing his spots regularly. His fastball command is essential because he lacks an effective third pitch. There aren't many marquee two-pitch starters. This wasn't a factor in 2007 when he had his excellent control.

It's not clear to me that Bedard is 100% from his left hip injury. He needs his legs and trunk to be healthy, as he uses a swiveling delivery out of the windup where he turns his back to the hitter. This gives Bedard some extra deception and fastball velocity. He quickens and simplifies his delivery out of the stretch. The stakes are enormous for Bedard this year and 2009, as he obviously wants to make a good impression on the team that dealt for him and set himself up for a big contract starting in 2010. He could be pitching his way through some pain. His body language didn't look good to me in his June 14th start.

There are two schools of thought on Bedard's road troubles this year. He has had just three bad starts, but they were terrible - 19 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings in Los Angeles, Arlington and New York. Increased use of his changeup could enable him to escape big innings more easily.

It isn't clear what the Mariners will do with Bedard. They are now last in the majors with a 24-45 record and 17 games out of first. The Seattle Times' Larry Stone lays out the club's options when it comes to Bedard, none of them really attractive. I think they should keep him, as he's better than anyone else on the staff besides Felix Hernandez, and they won't get much for him on the market now.

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Radar Love: Heat in the last two weeks:

94-96: Felix Hernandez against the Tigers on May 31st.
93-94: Francisco Rodriguez in notching his major-league-best 23rd save in Seattle on June 3rd.
92-94: Salomon Torres in saving his sixth game on June 2nd against the Diamondbacks.
91-94: Ben Sheets in Houston on June 12th.
89-93: John Lackey against Tampa Bay on June 11th.
89-92: Armando Galarraga in beating the Dodgers on June 13th.
87-92: Pedro Martinez in San Francisco on June 3rd in his first start in two months.
87-91: Ted Lilly in his return visit to Toronto on June 15th.
87-90: Brian Bannister against the Indians on June 1st.
84-91: Derek Lowe against Colorado on June 2nd.

Next week: NL West: Brandon Webb

 

Article first appeared 6/17/08

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