Saturday, December 30, 2006

Zito to the Giants: What can they expect from him?

The big news this week was the signing of Zito to a 7-year, $126 million contract (that's roughly $18 million per year), the largest contract ever for a pitcher - but not to the Mets, who were widely considered the front-runners in the race until they balked at adding more years to the contract. Instead, Zito gets to stay in the Bay Area (he lives in San Francisco) ending up with the Giants.

Blez from Athletics Nation says he is "...kind of done with Zito..."

Mike from Barry Zito Forever seems to be content as he can still flip over to the Giants games to watch Zito pitch.

The Professor sums up the life of an A's fan : "We envy in the winter, but smirk during the playoffs."

The Pastime is sorry to see Zito go, but reminds us that no matter what players say, it is always about the money.

Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News says this was nothing more than a "...risky public-relations decision...":

The Giants not only met the market price for Zito, they also went crazy high over it. They were more desperate than the Texas Rangers and they outbid the Mets! By more than $40 million! Do you know how amazing that is?

No, this was not really a baseball move. This was mostly an incredibly expensive and risky public-relations decision. A buy-a-big-name-now desperation decision. A well-timed nod-to-the-fringe decision.

This is the way the Yankees do business to fend off the Mets or what the Rangers do to fend off their awfulness or what the Dodgers do to fend off boredom.

This is what the A's never do. Think Billy Beane is cackling privately about his cross-bay rival locking up $18 million to Zito from now until 2013 while the A's consistently churn out better teams?

And Eric Gilmore of the Contra Costa Times wonders openly "How Long Will the Zito Fest Last?":

Zito isn't going to carry this old, light-hitting Giants team to the playoffs on his back, even though he has never missed a start in his professional career.

In Zito, the Giants signed a very good and dependable starting pitcher, but one who hasn't come close the past four seasons to matching his Cy Young numbers of 2002, when he went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA for the A's.

Since his Cy Young year, Zito has gone 55-46 with ERAs of 3.30, 4.48, 3.86 and 3.83.

Zito's winning percentage the past four years is .545. That's lower than the A's overall winning percentage of .568 during that span.

I like Zito and I definitely think there is some good value in paying for durability - particularly when you find a guy who has never missed a start - but Gilmore is on to something with Zito's numbers.

I was talking to an old colleague of mine (who lives in San Francisco and is a Giants fan) who was absolutely ecstatic that his team outbid everybody else to secure Zito. I told him he should be happy because he was getting a good starter who had proved to be very durable, but that he should also curb his enthusiasm because Zito would prove to frustrate Giants fans with his up and down pitching performances throughout the year. As I said in my end of season review of Zito:

Zito can go out and give you 8-9 shutout innings, striking out 7-8 batters in barely 100 pitches. Or he can barely get through 6 innings with 120 pitches, 4-5 earned runs, and a boatload of walks. Sometimes he'll manage to string several solid performances together - other times it'll be a string of duds. But regardless, over a 162-game season, his better performances outweigh the bad.

Zito has always walked a lot of batters, but this year he walked a career high of 99. Like Haren, he too has given up a fair number of HR. Zito also completely fell apart at the end of the season, putting together a string of forgettable performances at the end of the season, but his saddest outing could also have been his last - a complete disaster in the ALCS against Detroit.

Here's Zito's numbers from 2001-2003 (I omitted 2000 because he only pitched 92 innings):

2001 - ERA 3.49 / HITS 184 / HR 18 / BB 80 / K 205 / WHIP 1.23 / AVG 0.230
2002 - ERA 2.75 / HITS 182 / HR 24 / BB 78 / K 182 / WHIP 1.13 / AVG 0.218
2003 - ERA 3.30 / HITS 186 / HR 19 / BB 88 / K 146 / WHIP 1.18 / AVG 0.219

Here's Zito's numbers from his last three seasons 2004-2006:

2004 - ERA 4.48 / HITS 216 / HR 28 / BB 81 / K 163 / WHIP 1.39 / AVG 0.263
2005 - ERA 3.86 / HITS 185 / HR 26 / BB 89 / K 171 / WHIP 1.20 / AVG 0.221
2006 - ERA 3.83 / HITS 211 / HR 27 / BB 99 / K 151 / WHIP 1.40 / AVG 0.257

From looking at these numbers it's possible Zito's best years are behind him. He has never replicated his Cy Young winning year of 2002 and his overall numbers have trended downward since 2003. His walks are up, his strikes are down, and that is not a WHIP to be proud of.

Now surely Zito will fare better in the NL. But the Giants just made Zito their centerpiece of the future, and I think Giants fans may expect too much out of Zito who is likely to give them versions 2004-2006 instead of 2001-2003.


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