I had been planning for quite some time to write a post about current Cubs SP Jon Lester’s place in Cubs history. Lester is rightly beloved by Cubs fans for his role in bringing a title to the North Side in 2016 and has been one of the top postseason pitchers in MLB history. However, when taking a look at the Chicago Cubs leaderboards, another name showed up as a candidate for Cubs Legend status: Carlos “El Toro” (“Big Z”) Zambrano.
Cubs fans probably best remember Zambrano for being the last pitcher to throw a no-hitter for the Northsiders before Jake Arrieta, in the neutral-site game on September 14, 2008 versus the Houston Astros, when Houston was still a National League club.
They probably also remember the time toward the end of his tenure with the Cubs when he wrecked a dugout Gatorade cooler after getting ejected.
What fans may not remember is how the Venezuelan-born starter was a strikeout machine and workhorse of the Northside rotation for many years. Zambrano had five seasons with 200+ IP (2003-2007) and finished with a career average IP per season of 203.
Zambrano spent 12 seasons in the major leagues, 11 with the Cubs, retiring in 2012 as a three-time All-Star with a career record of 132-91 (.592), a 3.66 ERA (120 ERA+), 7.5 SO9, 1.82 SO/W, and 3 Silver Slugger awards (career slash line: .238/.248/.388, .636 OPS).
Zambrano’s longevity and success with the Cubs means that he occupies a high rank on many of the franchise pitching leaderboards.
- WAR: 37.7 (9th)
- Victories: 125 (15th)
- Win-Loss %: .607 (T-20th)
- H9: 7.814 (13th)
- SO9: 7.597 (12th)
- Games Played: 319 (18th)
- IP: 1826.2 (16th)
- SO: 1542 (2nd)
- Games Started: 282 (8th)
- SO/BB: 1.874 (38th)
- Batters Faced: 7798 (14th)
- Adjusted ERA+: 122 (T-22nd)
- Adjusted Pitching Runs: 151 (8th)
- Adjusted Pitching Wins: 15.6 (8th)
- Base-Out Runs Saved: 141.80 (4th)
- Win Probability Added: 14.3 (6th)
- Situational Wins: 12.5 (5th)
- Base-Out Wins Saved: 14.3 (4th)
I also find it interesting that Zambrano sits as high as he does on the listings for counting stats such as victories, games played and games started given that the Cubs have been in existence for over a century and pitchers of yesteryear were expected to play more games and pitch more innings than modern pitchers.
While it is unlikely Zambrano will be considered for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is clear that he should be remembered as one of the Cubs’ all-time best starting pitchers.
Finally, here is a short clip of Zambrano discussing his sinker grip and pitch repertoire with Harold Reynolds (don’t read the comments).