San Francisco Giants: How Barry Zito Can Make Fans Forget He's Overpaid

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IJanuary 2, 2010

PHOENIX - JUNE 11:  Pitcher Barry Zito #75 of the San Francisco Giants watches from the dugout during the major league baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on June 11, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Diamondbacks defeated the Giants 2-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After spending his first seven seasons in the league across the bay with the Oakland Athletics, Barry Zito hit the jack pot with a seven-year $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.

When Zito signed what was then the richest contract of any starting pitcher in MLB history back in 2006, Giants fans were expecting to receive pitching worthy of top money. Unfortunately, they have yet to witness any long term consistency from Zito over the first three years.

Zito began his Giants tenure with a rough start to his 2007 campaign, going 6-9 with a 4.90 ERA in the first-half. And as disappointing as the entire first year was for Zito and Giants fans, a solid August-September gave fans hope for a bounce back 2008 season.

Over the last two months of the 2007 season, Zito went 4-3 with a 3.67 ERA, lowering his earned run average from 5.28 at the end of July to 4.53 at season's end.

However, any positive vibe for Zito coming out of 2007 was destroyed when he opened up the 2008 campaign 0-8 with a 6.25 ERA in his first nine starts including the first seven starts in a row where he picked up the loss.

Despite pitching much better in May of '08 where he posted a 3.49 ERA, Zito couldn't keep his strong performance going into the summer where his ERA jumped from 5.53 at the end of May to 5.99 at the end of June.

While Zito managed to lower his ERA to 5.15 by the end of '08, it wasn't nearly enough to get a positive vibe back like he did at the end of '07. Finishing the year with such an elevated ERA made Zito as big of a poster boy for KNBR listeners to rip on as Armando Benitez was back in 2006.

Zito, who had spent his entire nine year career in the Bay Area was done. Nobody thought he could bounce back from the backlash after his 2008 campaign. His career as a Giant seemed to be burning out quicker than Lance Niekro's tenure in San Francisco.

But then came 2009 and a year nobody saw coming. Starting out as the No. 4 starter instead of the ace, Zito managed a respectable 4.04 ERA to begin the year despite a 1-6 record through his first nine starts.

A much better mark compared to his 6.25 ERA through nine starts in '08 and 5.15 ERA through nine starts in '07. Unfortunately, this improved stretch to begin 2009 didn't last long.

After a second straight season with a strong performance in May, Zito fell apart in June. On the 15th, he was roasted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In just three and two thirds innings of work, Zito allowed seven earned runs on 10 hits raising his ERA to 4.72.

While Zito managed to drop his ERA down to 4.43 over the following four starts, his last game before the All-Star break was just another let down of gigantic proportions.

The prior start saw Zito stymie the Florida Marlins for eight and a third shutout innings where he allowed just four hits and the Giants won 3-0. But that good feeling was erased the following start against the San Diego Padres.

San Francisco was looking to go into the break on a high note, and a win on Sunday, July 12th would have capped a four-game sweep of the lowly friars.

Not only did Zito fail to deliver, he flat out fell apart. Lit up for a pair of three run homers and nine earned runs in four and third innings, Zito was once again the negative talk of the town.

The 10-4 loss was a momentum killer and an ERA inflater to 5.01, over a half a run increase from Zito's prior start.

Thankfully, that was the last of Zito's struggles. During the second half Zito never allowed more than four earned runs (which he allowed only once) in 15 starts and his performance finally got the fan base back on his side.

His second half run culminated in an impressive victory at the end of August against the Colorado Rockies. Zito carried a 5-0 lead into the ninth inning before unfairly being taken out of the game with one out away after giving up a solo home run.

After those of us in the crowd at AT&T Park stopped booing Bochy for making a move to the bullpen, we started chanting "Barr-yyyy! Barr-yyyy! Bar-yyy!" and Zito came out for a curtain call like his last name was Bonds and not Zito.

The master piece of an outing dropped Zito's ERA to a season low 3.94 and while Zito finished the year with an ERA of 4.03, his second half ERA was an astonishing 2.82 in 86 innings.

2009's second half dropped 98 points off his season ERA, even better than his 2007 second half which dropped his ERA 75 points.

Zito unfortunately couldn't carry over the momentum from 2007 into 2008 but hopefully for the Giants he will be too carry over his 2009 success into 2010.

If the Giants southpaw can reverse his trend of slow starts, as he has a career 4.23 ERA from April to June, (despite a total career ERA of 3.83) then he may be able to start earning some of his $126 million.

Considering that Zito earns anywhere from 500 to 600 grand per start, posting strong performances throughout the first half will be twofold. First, Zito will finally show he is worthy of at least some of the money thrown at him back in 2006. But more importantly, it might just make fans forget all about his lavish contract.

A first half performance in 2010 that mimicks his 2009 second half run might be the difference between playoffs and no playoffs for the orange and black next season.

If a consistent Zito can win 15 games with an ERA nearing his 3.83 career mark and the Giants make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, fans will forget about his contract.

They'll acknowledge "Big Z" as a vital part of the pitching staff and not just a grossly overpaid No. 3 starter.


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