On the conspiratorial spectrum, I probably fall on the side that tends to think if something looks suspicious, there’s a reason for it.

But even I never suspected¬†what Gordon Wittenmyer is implying in his article today about Carlos Zambrano’s performance in the bullpen, and subsequent move back to the rotation.

Even after showing up to camp in excellent shape and pitching well through March, Zambrano probably ranks sixth among the staff’s six would-be starters in knowing what you’ll get when he takes the mound.

Which is part of what made the move to the bullpen the right move at the time. But moving him back to the rotation?

Only Z knows the answer to that. It was a decision made after he struggled and couldn’t get his mind around the new role well enough to adjust — yet all of a sudden he has been dominant since being told he’ll start again.

”It goes to show you, basically, that he’s very capable of doing that particular role,” manager Lou Piniella said over the weekend, stopping short of being critical.

But there was no going back on the return move for Zambrano at that point, not with team officials knowing what everyone else around the team knows: That lights-out pitching isn’t likely to continue if he’s told he has to stay there.

Did you catch that? It wasn’t terribly subtle, so I imagine you did. Wittenmyer is suggesting that Zambrano – whether consciously or unconsciously – sabotaged his own performance in the bullpen so that he could “earn” a trip back to the rotation.

I’ll concede that the recent evidence at least points in that direction: after the decision to move him back to the rotation was made, Zambrano looked like the 8th inning pitcher he was supposed to be.

But I simply can’t believe Zambrano – yes, even Zambrano – would pull a stunt like that. That said, Wittenmyer implies that he’s got inside knowledge, associating his theory with “everyone else around the team.”

If true, this makes an already jacked-up situation a really, really jacked-up situation.

  • Gargantua!

    You loathsome little bastard.

    I’m going to eat you.

  • jstraw

    Wittenmeyer lost me with “Which is part of what made the move to the bullpen the right move at the time.”

    Sports are as mental as physical. I find nothing surprising in Z pitching well since being told he’s heading back to the rotation. Marmol pitched better after he no longer had to compete with Gregg for the closer’s job. Z’s a headcase. The move to the pen fucked up his head. The move back unfucked it up. Occam tells me so.

    • wax_eagle

      I am with you jstraw.

      Way more likely to just a be a mental block than an actual intentional thing. I don’t know Z personally (or any of the other Cubs), but he seems like a real competitor. He wants to go to the playoffs and win the World Series just like everyone else does. He wants the team to win and if they can win with him in the pen then he will do it.

      However, this does not mean that his head will be screwed on correctly when he gets there. Baseball is 90% mental (with the other half being physical) and when your role changes or is not what you expect your mind can get pretty messed up. This is most likely what happened with Z.

      Now that Z’s future is more certain I would assume he is more comfortable and is pitching as well as he has out of the pen. We will see if this continues.

      • Ace

        Agreed on all counts.

  • jstraw

    On April 19th, Wittenmyer freaking predicted that Z would be ineffective out of the pen specifically due to it being unlikely that he’d handle the demotion well:

    “Among the five starters, Zambrano has been the least effective and would seem to merit the demotion if the trend holds this week. But it’s hard to imagine the $91 million career starter handling that well enough to be effective in the pen.”

    This also constitutes Wittenmyer’s entire written record on the subject of Zambrano’s assignment to the pen as “the right move at the time.”

    Why are Cubs beat reporters so universally full of shit?

    • Ace

      Good find, straw.

    • Jeff

      jstraw says: Why are Cubs beat reporters so universally full of shit?

      I’m going to start referring to this problem as “The Mariotti Syndrome”, saying something outlandish just for the sake of hearing yourself speak and having other people react to it.

  • 1060Ivy

    Z isn’t tanking on purpose.

    Wittenmeyer’s story does provide something else to report rather than the Cubs current streak winning 7 of the last 9 games.

    BTW, I’ve got a plot line for another Wittenmeyer story. The Ricketts family decided the Cubs would lose in 2010 and would immediately sell the team back to the Tribune at a significant loss. The move inspires such a panic attack that J. Joseph Ricketts immediately passes. The remaining Ricketts’ inherit the senior’s estate.

    Know what this plot line and the story of Z have in common. Both are based on similar level of reality and fact.

  • Jeff

    I can’t see a guy like Zambrano tanking anything intentionally. Seeing him repeatedly take out his frustrations on the water cooler in the dugout after poor starts makes me believe this guy hates to lose, and leaves little doubt that he has issues in his head that cloud his performance.

  • KB

    Well, I’m going to go against the grain here.

    I think it’s entirely possible that Z didn’t give it his 110% down there in the ‘pen. I’m always a little surprised that fans think ballplayers exhibit this supremely high standard of human behavior that almost no other class of humans displays.

    In reality, they’re human. Thus, they can occasionally be mean, petty, looking out for their own self-interests, and even willing to sabotage the greater good for personal needs.

    And would guess that spoiled multi-millionaire jock in his 20’s is MORE altruistic than the average person?
    I love Z, but come on.

    • jstraw

      This is true but my gut tells me that’s not what happened. In any case, Wittenmyer is still full of crap. His hypothesis is belied by his earlier prediction.

    • 1060Ivy

      Before tanking in the bullpen which would potentially destroy his future earning power wouldn’t Z first demand to be either traded or removed from the bullpen?

      Athletes can be scum bags, like the rest of us, and baseball players aren’t known for being the sharpest crayons in the crayon box but there were many easier ways for Z to show his displeasure that wouldn’t impact on his ability to earn.