I don’t care if it's welding motorcycle frames or pitching in front of 40,000 fans each night, there is a lot of pressure that comes with being the highest paid at anything. In 2006, three days before the New Year, Barry Zito signed a mega-deal worth $126 million.
The contract signaled his departure from the impoverished Oakland A’s to their Bay Area counterpart, the more affluent San Francisco Giants. At the time, the signing made him the highest paid pitcher in the major leagues. As a three-time All-Star and 2002 Cy Young Award winner, few argued paying Zito such a high figure, especially when Carlos Zambrano and Roger Clemens would soon be making more.
Since then, Zito’s performance has failed to live up to his notoriously large contract, and has subsequently, become a burden on the Giants’ front office.
The 2007 season, the first year of Zito’s contract, marked the first losing record of his Major League career. The next season he would lead the league with 17 losses and hold an ERA of 5.15. Barry would go on to produce a losing record in each of the following two seasons and was left off the Giants’ playoff roster during their 2010 World Series run. If things were not bad enough for the Zen-like lefty, he was held back by injury for much of 2011.
In 2012, many fans and front-office members alike have seen a resurgence of Barry Zito. While he may no longer have the 90-mph fastball he once had in his Oakland days and his infamous 12-6 curveball is not exactly befouling hitters, his stats have made a turnaround nonetheless. In fact, 2012 marked the first season since coming across the Bay that Zito has produced a winning record. What’s more, he won 15 games and pitched his first shutout in nearly a decade.
Whether Zito’s unexpected resurgence justifies his high price is highly unlikely, however, it is hard to ignore the sudden drop-off of moans and groans about his inflated value. As a testament to Zito's turnaround, the Giants have won each of his last 12 starts.
So, at the very least Zito is a good luck charm, and you never know, if he keeps pitching well next season, the Giants may just pick up his option for 2014. Oh wait, its worth $18 million? On second thought…