They are at their wits end with him, frustrated by years of sub-par peformances and unmet expectations. In San Francisco, watching Zito is a reminder of just how cruel and unforgiving baseball's liberal salary rules for free agents can be.
Yes, the Giants are stuck with Zito, and Zito with the Giants. Over the last five years, fans have slowly migrated from blind support for the former ace to general frustration with him, and have now finally arrived at genuine apathy.
We don't even really care how the Zito situation turns out at this point. We just want it to be over.
When Zito went down with a foot injury in his third 2011 start, no one expected a journeyman pitcher to step in and competently fill his shoes. But that is exactly what Ryan Vogelsong has done. He has shown up, pitched better than anyone rightfully thought he could, and created a legitimate fifth starter controversy in the City by the Bay.
Now, Zito is close to returning from injury. However, in his brief absence it has become clear that the team is ready to move on without him. Vogelsong has not only been a revelation of sorts, but also a story that is incredibly easy to get behind, one that hints at a brighter future.
It is time for San Francisco to move on from the Zito era. Here are seven reasons why Ryan Vogelsong has seized his moment, and created the perfect opportunity for the team to do just that.
To the slides!
Really, this list could be one item long and contain only the following information: Ryan Vogelsong is better than Barry Zito at this point.
His ERA is lower. His WHIP is lower. He gets more strikeouts and walks fewer batters. He goes deeper into games and has collected three wins to Zito’s zero in only one more start.
By nearly every measurable statistic, Ryan Vogelsong has been better than Zito in 2011.
Saying that a pitcher is better than Zito isn’t actually saying much at all. Really, all it means is that a player has managed to exist slightly north of terrible, and has not been vastly overpaid in the process.
But it is the most important of points nonetheless. Ultimately, the player with the most talent and the best production should be starting. Talent should win out just as it did last year when Andres Torres took Aaron Rowand’s center field job. Talent wins baseball games, and the best players should get the starting spots.
Starting a more deserving player while ignoring contract size and past achievements shows a commitment to winning, and a commitment to playing those who have earned it. This is a message that could positively affect the entire team.
Vogelsong has pitched better than Zito. Ultimately, other factors are far less important.
Through four starts this year, Vogelsong has averaged over 5 2/3 innings pitched per game. In his three starts, Zito averaged 4 1/3. This may not seem like an especially significant difference, but it is important when you consider the following;
· San Francisco’s bullpen is one of the strengths of the team, and was a key factor in their championship run last season. It is incredibly important to keep them fresh and ready for the end of the season. The extra 1 1/3 inning or so that Vogelsong gives the Giants every fifth day will pay off quickly in the form of added rest for relievers, who could be the difference between postseason success and failure.
· As good as the Giants rotation is, its back half is not exactly littered with guys who consistently go deep into games. Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Zito all have trouble pitching into the fifth or sixth inning. Keeping Vogelsong in the starting rotation will help balance the staff and keep Giants fans from experiencing the cold sweats that come along with seeing Guillermo Mota continually relied upon for three-plus innings of long relief.
Let’s pretend for a moment that Zito and Vogelsong were equals on the mound. Even if they were carbon copies of one another, with identical stats and production, starting Vogelsong would still be the right move in the eyes of Giants nation.
This is because Vogelsong doesn’t carry the baggage that Zito does. Every Vogelsong start is not a cruel reminder of past mistakes the way that Zito’s are. For Giants fans, frustration with Zito goes far beyond his inability to pitch more than six innings in a start or not walk batters en masse. Frustration with Zito exists at the level it does because he represents the bygone eras of Giants baseball characterized by bad contracts and disregarded prospects who turned into stars for other teams.
Watching Barry Zito is taking a look back, and with all the youthful talent possessed by San Francisco, fans want more than anything to look forward.
Watching a Zito start is a Giants fans version of Bill Murray’s predicament in Groundhog Day. We have been here before. We have seen this movie. We know how it ends. And as desperately as we would like to change the course of history, to rewrite what has already happened in order to augment what will happen, it is impossible. Barry Zito is who he is, and there is no changing it. No amount of wishing or praying will put velocity back on his fastball or re-establish his self-confidence. Giants fans know this, and they are tired of thinking about it.
Ryan Vogelsong gives fans a break from their Zito-induced baseball purgatory. In many ways, he is the anti-Zito. Even if he is terrible, at least he is terrible in a way that we haven’t seen a thousand times before.
His starts are not pre-ordained, as Zito’s seem to be. With a Zito start, fans are doomed from the first pitch. They are just waiting to groan and boo, expecting to be disappointed. Fair or not, Zito begins every fifth game behind the eight ball, with fans just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
At least Vogelsong provides a glimmer of hope, faint though it may be. He is a pitcher who started off and the bottom and has risen to the top – or at least the middle. Watching him evokes positive feelings, emotions of overcoming tremendous odds and becoming better for having struggled.
Like I said, he is the anti-Zito in this regard. And really, this is all that Giants fans want.
Keeping Vogelsong in the starting rotation benefits not only the relievers, but the studs of the starting staff as well.
Currently, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain carry the world on their shoulders with every start. They are expected to go deep into games, and to be their usual unhittable selves. There is no question they are up to the challenge.
But that doesn't mean that they couldn't use a little help. Every win that Vogelsong picks up is one that Timmy and Cain don't have to. Again, this may seem like a small factor—and it is—but over the course of a season, any pressure that can be removed from the shoulders of the Giants one-two punch is a good thing.
Vogelsong is certainly capable of providing more support of this kind for his fellow starters than Zito is.
There have been a lot of things that have gone wrong for the Giants in 2011.
Buster Posey and Aubrey Huff have both battled slumps.
Madison Bumgarner hasn’t been as effective or consistent as fans would have hoped.
Pablo Sandoval had a terrific comeback season interrupted by injury.
Ryan Vogelsong has been one of the positives. He is a former top draft pick of the Giants who journey-manned his way around professional baseball both home and abroad, and returned ten years later to the team that drafted him to have his most successful season as a pro.
Vogelsong’s is a story that fans appreciate. His past struggles and the circuitous route he has taken back to San Francisco make it easy to root for him, and makes any success seem that much greater in comparison to the rest of his career.
In a season that has, at times, seemed filled with calamity, the Giants can’t afford to disregard a pitcher who has been one of the best stories of the year.
Once you have a starting job, something has to take it away from you. Barry Zito lost his spot to injury, fair or not.
Ryan Vogelsong has not yet lost his job, and it is unlikely that Zito can take it away from him.
Vogelsong should be the starter until he pitches his way out of it, or gets injured like Zito did. He should not lose his job just because a player is returning from the DL, especially when that player was arguably the worst on the team before his injury.
All that can be asked of a replacement player is to come in, handle uncertain circumstances as best they can, and perform to the highest level possible. Ryan Vogelsong has done exactly that, and he should continue to be rewarded for his efforts.
Barry Zito has been a starter his whole career. Clearly, it is no longer working out for him.
However he has shown that he can still be an effective pitcher in short spurts. At this point in his career, it is worth seeing if he can reinvent himself as a reliever.
I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that it is especially likely that Zito will transform himself into a shutdown reliever overnight, but he can’t possibly be any worse than he was in the rotation.
Clearly, what has worked for Zito in the past is not working for him (or anyone else) in the present. Re-focusing his game could not possibly be a bad thing. Who knows, maybe he would fit right in with the mustachioed specialists of the San Francisco bullpen. Maybe he he finds some self confidence, or alters his mechanics while he's there. Maybe he even finds that can be effective against one type of hitter, and carves a new niche for himself in the twilight of his career.
Anything could happen really, and at this point, any change for Barry Zito is a positive thing.