Is 2009 the Year that Barry Zito Has a Productive Season In San Francisco?

Danny PenzaSenior Writer IMarch 3, 2009

San Francisco Giants broadcaster Jon Miller’s description of Barry Zito’s first season and change in the orange and black couldn’t have been more accurate.

In an interview on KNBR last week, Miller said Zito was “completely flamboozled” by the seven-year, $126 million contract he signed before the 2007 season and trying to live up to it.

His entire 2007 and beginning of the 2008 season was anything but reflective of what he had done across the Bay in Oakland. Because of it, the huge dollar figure and poor performance, getting booed off the mound was a regular occurrence.

After losing his first six starts and sporting a ridiculous 7.53 ERA, Zito was sent to the bullpen. As Miller points out, he seemed to have lost all confidence when he went out on the hill.

He never made an appearance out of the pen, but when he returned to the rotation, his losing ways continued.

Yet with a new arm angle and a subsequent extra zip on his fastball after his demotion to the bullpen, Zito went 10-9 in the final four months of the season on a team that was, as it had all season, struggling to put runs on the board.

That has led  the Giants' front office and coaching staff to believe that Zito can turn things around and be productive in the upcoming season.

As he usually does, Zito spent the winter down in Southern California, but he had a buddy with him this time, closer Brian Wilson.

The offseason included a new diet and throwing regimen, which included long toss as far as 300 ft. away from each other, and a bunch of running. These were all were parts of an obsession to get into an insane kind of baseball shape.

It seems to have been an effective change.

Any mention of Zito has resulted in Giants trainers and coaches talking about how great of shape the lefty is in.

And it’s translated into the mound as well.

Zito is relaxed and is performing as well as any pitcher thus far in Giants camp. In his first two spring outings, one intersquad and his first spring start, he has been quite impressive and has been one of the names that everybody is talking about.

He notched his first Cactus League strikeout last year on Mar. 21. He seemed lost even before Opening Day had even arrived and obviously it was a sign of things to come in the first six weeks of the season.

When did he record his first Cactus League strikeout this year? Feb. 28. He even tacked on another one for good measure in his hitless innings Saturday.

Things seem to be a little different the third time around.

Despite about $100 million left on the infamous contract, there doesn’t seem to as much pressure on Zito this year than in years past.

He’s not expected to carry the staff and there won’t be any kind of pressure of trying to be the ace of inexperienced pitching corps.

As we all know now, Tim Lincecum has done what Giants management hoped Zito would do. He’s the ace, undoubtedly the face of the franchise, and may be the best thing to happen to the city of San Francisco in quite some time.

But could Lincecum emerging as the best pitcher on the staff be something that Zito should be grateful for?

With Lincecum establishing himself as the No. 1 starter and being the reigning National League Cy Young winner, he will be looked to pace the rest of the rotation and be the horse of the staff.

Then you add Matt Cain, who is just waiting for some run support to break out and become the second ace, and Randy Johnson who was brought onboard this winter. Zito will be the No. 4 starter and will not have as much pressure put upon his shoulders.

Because of that, there won’t be a pressing need to be perfect every time out, he won’t be going against other team’s aces, and that could result in a little more run support.

However, it's only one week into Spring Training games and the results won’t really matter until the games are official in April. We have learned many times that stats in spring don’t exactly carry into the regular season.

But when a player that has struggled the way Zito has over the past two seasons comes into camp and gets such rave reviews, maybe there will actually be a little less flamboozling going on at AT&T Park when the Giants open their season.