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By all means, Barry Zito doesn’t seem to be all that gifted in terms of natural athleticism; because of that, you have to figure that all of his success took work, and lots of it. You have to figure that, maybe, he has already exceeded his potential.
Except that Zito has been far too up-and-down over the course of his 13-year career to suggest that he has accomplished more than he should have—and his ups have been way up.
He was one of the best players the Oakland A’s organization ever built. While he was at his peak, he had one of the best curveballs in the game. During his heyday in 2002, when he somehow beat out Pedro Martinez for the Cy Young Award, he was un-hittable. There aren’t many guys who win Cy Youngs and then spend the next 10 or so years fighting to keep their spot in the rotation.
And then, like so many other pitchers, the mental aspect of the game got in the way for Zito.
He clearly spends a lot of time thinking about why he struggled so much after signing a gigantic seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, as evidenced by this article. For a long time, Zito tried to cultivate, a carefree, hippie-esque persona, perhaps to convince people he didn’t take baseball too seriously.
But along the way, maybe he stopped taking it seriously enough, and it hurt him.
Zito is still OK. He wouldn’t have two World Series rings if he weren’t. The Giants would have cut him a long time ago, otherwise.
But back when he went a combined 54-25 in three seasons with the A’s early in his career, it was hard to imagine that 10 years later, he’d be one of the most disappointing free-agent acquisitions the Giants made in recent memory.