Monday, April 5, 2010

Braves Opening Day Preview: At the Plate

After enjoying a period of dominance in the early 2000s, Carlos Zambrano (RHP) saw his once-elite skills deteriorate during the latter part of the decade. If there's one encouraging sign, it's that Zambrano's K/9 rebounded to 8.1 in 2009, reversing a three year slide (8.8, 7.4, 6.2). But the most troubling number of all may be that Zambrano's innings pitched continued their downward trend (223, 214, 216, 188, 169), yet another sign that Big Z's arm is succumbing to the high-stress workload placed on him during Dusty Baker's days in the Cubs' dugout.

Zambrano's spring training was something of a mixed bag. While he only struck out 15 batters in 24 innings pitched, he demonstrated much better control than he has in previous seasons, walking just 6 batters.

Still just 28, Zambrano may yet have his best seasons ahead of him if he can conquer the command issues he's battled over the last several seasons. His performance against the Braves on opening day could be a big indicator as to which Carlos Zambrano will be fronting the Cubs' rotation in 2010.

This is what the Braves' opening day lineup has done against righthanded pitching in their careers:

(LF) Melky Cabrera: .272/.332/.395
(2B) Martin Prado: .321/.358/.436
(3B) Chipper Jones: .307/.410/.551
(C) Brian McCann: .304/.365/.527
(1B) Troy Glaus: .248/.345/.476
(SS) Yunel Escobar: .311/.382/.448
(RF) Jason Heyward: .000/.000/.000
(CF) Nate McLouth: .265/.350/.474
(P) Derek Lowe: .131/.175/.139

After finishing 21st in UZR in 2009, the Cubs should be an improved defensive unit in 2010. Milton Bradley and his brittle frame were shipped to Seattle, and Marlon Byrd was signed to replace him, allowing Kosuke Fukudome to move to from center to right field, where he is a much better defender.

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