San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean thought he made a franchise-changing move when he signed starting pitcher Barry Zito to a 7-year deal worth a whopping 126 million dollars before the 2007 season. Well, it certainly made a huge difference on the current state and the future of the franchise, but in an absolutely disastrous way.Today, the Giants moved the struggling left-hander to the bullpen, and more or less admitted making probably the biggest gaffe in the history of baseball signings. Zito currently has a record of 0-6, with an ERA of 7.53. He allowed 41 hits in just 28 2/3 innings, and most of those hits weren't Texas leaguers. He's been absolutely shelled thus far.
It's not just the statistics that show how far the 29-year-old has fallen, as any scout in baseball will tell you he just doesn't have much anymore. The 12-6 curveball is still good, but he has nothing else to set it up with. I've seen a couple of his starts this year, and I don't think there was a fastball over 84 MPH. Everything is 80-84 MPH. In his dominant days with the Oakland A's, his fastball would be between 87-91 MPH. That's a huge difference, especially because he had about a 20-25 MPH difference from his fastball and curveball, making the fastball look probably 95 MPH to hitters.
While nobody could have predicted that the 3-time All-Star would lose quite this much velocity, there's evidence over the last few years that he almost surely would not be worth the massive contract that Sabean gave him.
In 2001, Zito really broke onto the scene with a 17-8 record, 3.49 ERA, and 205 strikeouts in 214.1 innings. He would never get near those strikeout numbers again, even when he won the Cy Young the following season, 2005. He sported an incredible record that year of 23-5, with an ERA of 2.75, and 182 strikeouts in 229.1 innings. Then in 2003, Zito went 14-12, with a 3.30 ERA, and 146 strikeouts in 231.2 innings. Now, although the ERA got better after 2001, the strikeout drop is eye-opening. And yes, I know pitching isn't all about strikeouts. Ask Greg Maddux and he'll tell you that he'd rather just get a groundball on the first pitch, rather than waste at least 3 to strike a hitter out. However, it tends to be a pretty good indicator of a pitcher's dominance. You could argue that he was just trying to get quick outs rather than strikeout guys as I mentioned with Maddux, but Zito's walks/innings pitched rates did not lower much in 2002, and went up considerably in the following years.
Furthermore, the amount of innings Zito pitched in Oakland should have warned the Giants of a decline in Zito's performance. From 2001-2006, the lowest amount of innings Zito pitched in a season was 213. Compare that to Red Sox star Josh Beckett, who's career-high in innings pitched is just 204.7. At some point, you had to figure Zito's arm would wear down, and he's fortunate to avoid a serious arm injury up to this point. In fact, he has the longest streak of not missing a start due to injury for active pitchers at 247.
However, with all that being said, I just don't understand the decision to move Zito to the bullpen, even if it's just for a week or two. What good is that going to do? If you sign a guy to a contract like that, you should at least give him longer than a season and a month to give up on him. The Giants are going to tell you it's just to "work on his mechanics", "gain some confidence" and all that junk, but it's pure bullshit. He's still going to be called on to pitch, and he's not going to all of a sudden "find it" out of the 'pen. He's pissed off by the move as well, so I don't see how this move will help his confidence at all:
"I'm certainly not happy with it, by any means," Zito said. "But this is the bed that I've made. I have to lay in it for the time being and I have to overcome. I trust management and I trust what their decisions are."This Giants team is terrible, and they should only be concerned about the future. There's not a team out there that will be dumb enough to take a chance on Zito and his contract, so the Giants are stuck with him. I think if you are going to take him out of the starting rotation, just put him on the shelf for awhile. As I said, this season doesn't matter for the Giants, but the next 5 years on Zito's contract certainly could. His velocity isn't going to magically come back with all of these innings pitched, that's for sure.
The Giants are fools for signing Zito to that contract, but they might be even bigger fools for this decision.