Barry Zito: Not a Giant Disappointment... Completely

Kevin O'BrienCorrespondent IJuly 13, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 08:  Barry Zito #75 of the San Francisco Giants throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 8, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

There is no question starting pitcher Barry Zito has been a source of frustration since he signed that seven-year $126 million contract prior to the 2007 season.

His stats on paper say enough.

In two-and-a-half seasons in San Francisco, Zito has compiled 26 wins, 39 losses, a 4.87 ERA and has allowed 473 hits and 279 runs in 482.2 innings.

Those numbers are a far cry from Zito's Oakland A's days, where in seven years as the ace of the Green and Gold he accumulated 102 wins, a 3.55 ERA and only allowed 620 runs in 1,430 innings of work.

Furthermore, Zito is also a long way away from his 2002 form, a year when he won the AL Cy Young with a 23-5 record and 2.75 ERA.

In fact, saying he is a "long way" away from his 2002 form is a misstatement.

It is almost as if somebody transplanted a new pitcher into Zito's body once he signed the massive contract with the Giants;in no way, shape or form is he the pitcher he once was.

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He isn't the team's ace, but rather a low-in-the-rotation guy.

He doesn't have the same intimidating presence he once had on the mound.

He gives up an exuberant amount of home runs.

Yes, it's safe to say that pitching-wise, Zito isn't the same guy he used to be in Oakland.

Additionally, with a 5-9 record and 5.01 ERA this season, Zito doesn't look to be changing that opinion anytime soon.

However, as much as this may befuddle Giants fans who have been harping on him since opening day of 2007, Zito hasn't been as big of a disappointment as we all like to think.

Is he worth the $126 million GM Brian Sabean signed him for? Not even a fraction of it.

However, as a clubhouse leader, what Zito has brought to this organization has been most valuable and can't be measured in individual wins and losses, or ERA.

In some ways, signing Zito was the first step in the transformation of the Giants over the past couple of seasons.

Zito brought a new outlook, a new attitude and more relaxed atmosphere to a locker room that had been wound up in tightness and secrecy since Matt Williams left after the 1996 season.

He even loosened up Barry Bonds a little in Bonds' last season in San Francisco. While other guys on the squad previous to Zito's arrival simply left Barry alone and let him be, Zito actually went out and befriended the guy.

One example was in Spring Training of 2007, when he created T-shirts poking fun of the media's constant harassment of Bonds

Would that have continued if Bonds was still on the team?

Probably not, but Zito and his influence on the club showed that the Giants weren't going to be a "25 players, 25 cabs" kind of club like the "Yankees Zoo" days of the 1970's.

The Giants were actually going to be a team that liked playing with each other every day.

Things were even more evident in the first year after Bonds' departure in San Francisco. In Spring Training of 2008, the Giants were more known for their clubhouse antics than their play.  Instead of sulking in their own lockers in fear that they would have to answer questions about steroids, guys were hanging out with each other playing Guitar Hero.

Who was the guy responsible for that?

Zito brought the jovial clubhouse chemistry he experienced in Oakland with him across the Bay, and it paid dividends.

The team was supposed to be the worst in baseball last year, but they didn't even finish last in their division.

The Giants were supposed to be in a rebuilding mode this year, predicted to be a middling team in the NL West.

Instead, they lead the NL Wild Card going into the All-Star break, with a record of 49-39, 23 wins away from last year's total wins for the season.

What has been the difference in the Giants overcoming expectation the past two years?

This Giants team, for the first time in a while, has genuine team chemistry. They enjoy playing with each other. They are loose out on the field and in the dugout. Guys are willing to put their bodies on the line for one another (as Aaron Rowand showed on Friday night after his incredible play to save Sanchez's no hitter in the ninth inning).

Zito could have packed it in and quit on this team after two losing seasons. He could have lashed back and brooded on his teammates in May when he pitched great and had a 3.35 ERA for the month, but only earned a 1-4 record as a result of poor run support.

However, he refused to go that route, remaining confident and optimistic about the team and their play.

It has worked. With all the players on this roster able to trust one another, the Giants reversed their usual trend of the "June Swoon."

The Giants have earned themselves not only a great chance for the Wild Card spot, but have kept themselves somewhat in the NL West with the Dodgers (believe me, this lead could be a lot worse).

It's sad because Zito's worth to this team isn't evident by his stats. While he is no longer the ace, he has been a great guy in the four spot of the rotation that has blessed fans with some great pitching performances this season.

Is he inconsistent? Yep, way too much.

Does he give up too many home runs and walks? No doubt about it.

Yet I don't want Zito off this squad as badly as some naysayers.

Should he have been signed for less money? Yeah, but I'm not going to ask him to give any money back, even in this age of economic hardship.

Now, all Giants fans need from him is to come through consistently on the mound.

Once Zito does that (and he's almost there, believe me) we Giants faithful will be glad we stuck with him for so long.