He's for the money, he's for the show
Zito's a-waitin' for another go
"one more job oughta get it"
"One last shot, and we quit it"
"One more for the road"
With apologies to Boz Scaggs (but not Barry Zito), the former Cy Young Award winner has left that shack in Oakland and shuffled across the bay to the San Francisco Giants. Zito may have missed the boat on his way but that was all he missed because he ain't coming back.
Brian Sabean put the money down and let her roll. If it doesn't work out, he will be heading for the borderline, having gone broke.
What can I say? Here's the lowdown on the signing:
Has started 34 or 35 games every full season in his big league career. No active pitcher has had a longer streak of starting 34 or more games.
Pitched at least 210 innings for six consecutive years. Only Roger Clemens (1986-92), Tom Glavine (1996-2002), and Livan Hernandez(2000-06), among actives, have thrown as many innings for seven straight seasons.
Managed to keep his ERA under 4.50 every year since his rookie campaign in 2000. Greg Maddux (1988-2006), Pedro Martinez (1993-2006), and Clemens (2000-06) are the only starters with longer current streaks.
He is smart, as evidenced by the fact that he chose to sign with a team that plays its home games in a pitcher friendly ballpark in the
inferior...oops, National League.
His K/9 rate (6.15) has been in decline since his first full season (8.61).
At the same time, his BB/9 rate (4.03) has climbed to its highest level since 2001 (3.36).
As a result, the all-important K/BB rate (1.53) was not only at a career low in 2006 but 25% below the league average.
Here are a couple of Zito's pitching lines. Which one do you suppose produced the better ERA?
G GS IP H HR BB SO
34 34 213 216 28 81 163
34 34 221 211 27 99 151
The seasons are so close statistically that it would be difficult to favor one over the other. One could argue the top because of the lower BB and higher SO totals. Another person could make a case for the bottom due to the slightly lower hit and home run per 9 IP rate. Well, guess what? The first set of numbers produced an ERA of 4.48 in 2004, the second 3.83 in 2006.
Maybe Zito was a bit unlucky in 2004 or a bit lucky in 2006. OK, average the two and you get an ERA of 4.16. For what it's worth, Zito's Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (FIP) last year was 4.94, his Defense Independent Pitching Run Average (DIPS 3.0) was 4.65 (which equates to an ERA of about 4.40-4.45), and his Component ERA (ERC) was 4.47. In other words, he looks more like a guy who should have an ERA in the 4s than the 3s.
In addition, the number of baserunners Zito allowed last year (13.15 BR/9) and his ERA (3.83) are not consistent with one another - at least not based on the results of other pitchers with a similar penchant for giving up hits, walks, and hit by pitches.
BASERUNNERS/9 BETWEEN 12.80 AND 13.50
(Minimum of 100 IP)
ERA BR/9 IP
1 Barry Zito 3.83 13.15
2 Jeff Suppan 4.12 13.45
3 Jake Westbrook 4.17 13.03
4 Andy Pettitte 4.20 13.02
5 Mark Hendrickson 4.21 13.06
6 Aaron Cook 4.23 12.87
7 Ted Lilly 4.31 13.08
8 Brad Penny 4.33 12.81
9 Cliff Lee 4.40 13.01
10 Gil Meche 4.48 13.26
11 Vicente Padilla 4.50 13.19
12 Aaron Sele 4.53 13.24
13 Ian Snell 4.74 13.26
14 Noah Lowry 4.74 12.88
15 Chan Ho Park 4.81 13.17
16 Kris Benson 4.82 12.98
17 Ricky Nolasco 4.82 13.37
18 Claudio Vargas 4.83 13.15
19 Jamie Shields 4.84 13.28
20 Cory Lidle 4.85 13.18
21 Tim Hudson 4.86 13.31
22 Esteban Loaiza 4.89 13.03
23 Mark Buehrle 4.99 13.28
24 Luke Hudson 5.12 13.32
25 Enrique Gonzalez 5.67 12.87
Source: Complete Baseball Encyclopedia
The average ERA and BR/9 of the above 25 pitchers was 4.61 and 13.13, respectively. Importantly, the average BR/9 was essentially the same as Zito's but the ERA was 0.78 higher (or a not insignificant 20%).
To Zito's credit, his actual ERA has consistently defied his FIP and DIPS calculations, as well as his PECOTA projections. He is obviously doing something well that isn't being captured in these systems. The most obvious abnormality is Zito's outstanding career Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) of .269 (vs. a more normal league-wide rate of about .300). It should be noted that the one year (2004) in which Barry had a BABIP of .300, his ERA was 4.48.
Looking at his batted ball data adds some insight to the lefty's proficiency. A fly ball pitcher, Zito gets more than his share of infield popups and gives up fewer HR/FB than the average pitcher. Zito unquestionably has been a beneficiary of a big ballpark with a large foul territory, both of which help convert batted balls in the air into outs. The combination of Oakland's Defensive Efficiency, friendly pitching environment at home, and strong bullpen support have undoubtedly helped Zito over the years.
We are about to find out just how much. AT&T Park has shifted from one that heavily favored pitchers to a much more neutral site the past few years. It is prone to doubles and triples but suppresses home runs about as much as any big league stadium. He will certainly benefit by changing leagues, which (among other pluses) means facing the opposing pitcher a couple of times per game rather than a designated hitter.
Don't be surprised if Zito's K/9 and HR/9 rates improve next year, offset at least partially by a higher BABIP. Netting it all out suggests to me that his ERA should be around 4.00, plus or minus 0.25. An ERA better than the league average coupled with a minimum of 210 IP means he will be a valuable pitcher in 2007. I'm just not sure he will be so valuable as to dictate $18M per year nor am I confident that he will be producing at this level in the back-end of his contract.