There was a time when Carlos Zambrano was considered a power pitcher. He featured a low 90's sinker and a 4-seam fastball that he could throw in the mid-to-upper 90's.
However, with his sinker now averaging around 89-90 mph and his 4-seamer in the low 90's, his days of being a power pitcher are behind him. But, as we saw Monday night against the Padres (and at the end of last season) it appears that Zambrano has learned how to pitch with his "new stuff".
One of the best inventions (for baseball fans anyway) over the last several years is Pitch f/x, which made its debut in 2006 and is installed in every MLB ballpark. Pitch f/x is a system used to determine the speed and movement of each pitch.
The folks over at Fangraphs have put together a Pitch f/x analysis for every pitcher and looking at the trends for Carlos Zambrano from 2007-2011 paints and interesting picture.
For one thing, you can see that from 2007-2011, Zambrano's average 4-seam fastball velocity (FA-Vel) has dropped from 91.7 in 2007 to 89.6 so far this year. But the more interesting thing I take away from this analysis is the change in the mix of pitches that Zambrano is throwing.
Zambrano basically throws 3 different fastballs: the 4-seam (FA), the sinker (FT) and a cutter (FC). He also mixes in a split-finger fastball (FS) on occassion, but he really only features the 3.
According to the Pitch f/x Type chart, back in 2007-2008 Zambrano was still featuring mostly his 4-seamer, throwing it over 65% of the time. However, as his velocity started to dip, so did his reliance on his 4-seamer, to the point that in 2011, he has only thrown it 17.5% of the time.
On the other side of the spectrum, we see an increase in his use of his sinker and cutter. In 2007, he threw either the sinker or cutter a total of 11.2%, while now he is throwing those pitches a combined 58.4%.
Why the change? I think (and this is pure speculation) that the Big Z finally realized that he could no longer blow his straight fastball past hitters and decided to use his other fastballs more, as they have better movement.
Whatever the reason, it appears to be working well for him. Although he is not inducing as many groundouts as he used to early on in his career, his strikeout rate is up, from a low of 6.2 K/9 in 2008 to its current level of 8.1.
So, kudos to Carlos for adjusting his arsenal to match his stuff and let's hope it continues to pay off for him.