This isn't what the San Francisco Giants had in mind.
When the Giants forked over $126 million for seven seasons of Barry Zito, they were hoping they landed a staff anchor for years to come. A proven and durable lefty - the type of pitcher that can hold up well into their 30's.
Instead, the Giants have been saddled with something more closely resembling a horse that ought to be sent to the glue factory.
Zito, 29, has appeared in 40 games (39 starts) for the Giants. He's totaled 225 innings and has surrendered 223 hits. That's not a bad hits-to-innings ratio, but Zito has a 98/142 BB/K in those 225 innings.
Generally, a pitcher should strike out two men for every man he walks, but Zito only registers 1.44 whiffs for every walk. Worse yet, he has an 11-19 record and a 4.93 in his time with the Giants.
Zito's decline pre-dates his time with the Giants. His K/9 rate has dipped every year since 2004, going from 6.89 in 04 to 6.74 in 05, 6.15 in 06, 6.00 in 07, and 3.45 so far in 2008. This is an important trend because it shows that Zito gradually lost his ability to dominate opposing hitters.
One reason why is that Zito doesn't throw as hard as he used to. When he won a Cy Young for Oakland in 2002, Zito's fastball sat between 88-92 MPH. That enabled him to set up his curveball, which was regarded as one of the best in the game.
Zito's fastball velocity has been dipping for a few seasons and now his average heater clocks in at 83.7 MPH according to data on fangraphs.com. Now that he isn't throwing his fastball as hard, it drastically reduces the effectiveness of his curveball.
According a report on The Sports Xchange, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti doesn't have a lot of hope for Zito regaining his velocity.
"No... unless he has an operation, unless he does a Rod Beck and puts on 20 or 30 pounds and throws harder. But how can you throw harder? I've never seen it other than somebody getting hurt and getting a new arm."
Velocity isn't everything. Pitchers can be effective pitching in the low-to-mid 80's like Zito has been - see the likes of Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer, and Mark Buehrle. But when you pitch at those speeds, you need to have control and command of your pitches.
You can be wild at 95, but not so much at 85. Zito's problem is that he isn't - and never has been - a big strike thrower. He walked between 80 and 99 batters every season between 2001 and 2007.
If Zito is going to fix whatever ails him, he's going to need to re-invent himself as a pitcher. That doesn't happen overnight and the Giants have sent the lefty to the bullpen this week.
Zito still is 29, so you can't write him off all together yet. However, given the fact that his decline has been brewing for years, there isn't a lot of reason to be optimistic either.
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