Barry Zito Vs. the World: Defending the Indefensible

Evan Aczon@TwoSeamGripeSenior Analyst IJuly 24, 2009

It's deja vu all over again.

As many of you have probably noticed, and evidenced by these articles here and here, I am a Barry Zito supporter. 

I am by no means a Zeets fanatic, but I do understand the impossible situation he has been thrown into. And in another attempt to at least quell the mad calls about release, demotion, and trade, I will defend him.

There are a couple things that need to be addressed right away. 

1. Barry Zito is grossly overpaid, and signing that contract in 2006 was a huge mistake.

2. No matter what he pitched like in 2002 , Zito is not, and will not be, an ace. 

The first point has been hashed and rehashed and gone over countless times. Zito isn't worth $18 million a year. Even if he pitched to 20 wins a season over the remainder of his contract, he still wouldn't be worth $126 million. 

Zito dumped his agent Arn Tellem after the 2005 season and signed Scott Boras, who negotiated the momentous deal for the left-hander after basically one stellar season in 2002. Since then, he has gone 27-40 as a Giant, lining him up to be one of the biggest busts of all time. 

For what it's worth, there's nothing he can do about his contract. The MLB Players Association would never allow him to renegotiate his deal, which is really too bad. Even if he wanted to give the money back, he couldn't. 

He already gives a lot to his charity, Strikeouts for Troops, but the money that was in that contract HAS to go to him, and there's no way around it. Maybe he could just give it to other players on the team under the table, but that would never fly past the MLBPA. That being said, he's probably paying for a big chunk of the house he shares with Brian Wilson (see: bunk-beds).

The second point is one that I stressed long ago. Barry Zito is not an ace. He never was, and with Tim Lincecum on the mound, he never will be in San Francisco

His Cy Young year in 2002 was not as the ace of the staff. That was the Three Aces staff, with Mark Mulder starting on Opening Day, Tim Hudson as the number two, and Zito as the number three starter. 

That's not taking away from what he did. Zito's time in Oakland marked him as an up and coming star in the majors, and the Giants were right to pursue him, But in the time after Barry Bonds, breaking the bank going for a number three starter to be the face of the franchise was a mistake. 

Monte Poole of the Contra Costa Times says that Zito should come out and say that he's not worth the money, much like Jose Guillen did with the Royals. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says that the Giants should just cut ties all together. 

But here's why they're wrong. 

As Poole mentions, Zito doesn't fit the mold of someone who's just earning a buck. As heard over the airwaves before his last start, Zito is definitely the opposite of another Giants bust Armando Benitez, who signed a $21 million deal and arguably didn't care that he was hurting the team. 

Zito works harder than anyone to stay away from that lackadaisical money grubbing reputation. He has tinkered with everything from his diet to trying yoga to regain that edge he had on the other side of the Bay. 

It just hasn't worked out. His inconsistency is especially frustrating, following up gems like an 8.1 inning shutout performance in Florida with a start against the Padres where he gave up two three-run homers in the first three innings. 

Yet just as Randy Johnson had his inconsistencies earlier this season, the distance between good starts with Zito is getting shorter. Granted, Johnson is a 45-year-old coming off back surgery, but the fact that Zito is a second-half pitcher means a lot.

It may anger some Giants fans for me to compare Zito to Matt "Hard-Luck" Cain of 2007. But the similarities are there. Zito is "co-leading" the league in most futile run support, garnering only 3.2 runs behind him, the same as Johan Santana. Again, Zito has only had 50 percent of his starts end up as quality starts, but the pluses from this year are better than those of last year. 

He has lost three quality starts this year, much like how Cain lost six quality starts last year. His walks are down, from 12 percent to 9 percent, and his strikeouts are up from 14 percent to 17 percent. Cain also lowered his walks and upped his strikeouts from 2007. The Giants bullpen has allowed over half of Zito's runners they inherited to score. Again, similarly, 2007 Cain had a bequeathed-runners scored percentage of over half. 

I'm not saying that Zito is poised for a breakout season again in 2010, or that he's going to make the All-Star team like Cain did. But he is improving.

The Giants also don't have anyone better than Zito ready to take his place. Sure, Bumgarner and Alderson are tearing up the minor leagues, but they're both still under 21. Kevin Pucetas is solid, but I'm not sold on Ryan Sadowski yet. 

If they trade/release/demote him now, it will only hurt this team more than having him in the rotation already does.

To summarize, Zito is NOT, and will not be worth his contract. Ever. Giants fans have to get over that real quick. That is way too much money to just take the hit. 

They also have to realize that there's nothing that can be done. If Zito were to renegotiate, which I bet $126 million that he would if given the chance, he would be kicked out of the MLBPA in a heartbeat and ostracized by his fellow union members. 

Yet Zito continues to try everything he can to at least live up to part of his contract. He doesn't bash the media for bashing him, but he doesn't come outright and declare that he's not worth it either. He tries to let his hard work do the talking for him. 

Sometimes he looks downright terrible, and other times there's flashes of brilliance. As with any pitcher his age, this is the turning point in the career, when your youth is fleeting and that veteran confidence starts to come out. 

With the improvement of stats from last year to this year, and the hard luck he's fallen upon in terms of support and bullpen help, there are many positives that are overshadowed by plain statistics. 

His rope is wearing out, but give him one more year. Forget the dollar total, and look at him as you would any other fourth starter in the league. He's not an automatic loss, and he's not an ace. Zito is one of those pitchers who had a stellar beginning because of one pitch (the curveball), which has since been adjusted to. He's learning how to pitch better, and has improved every year since he signed his deal. 

For the last time. Give him a break. Go watch him pitch, and either support him or don't. 

But for me, my mind is made up. Keep pitching, Zeets, I've got your back. 


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