And win a game.
Barry Zito hurled 7 innings of 3-hit, 1-run baseball for the Giants while striking out 6 batters and walking 5. The bottom of the 4th inning was particularly weird when Zito did the following:
Martin Prado walks. None out.
Chipper Jones called out on strikes. One out.
Yunel Escobar walks. Martin Prado to 2nd. One out.
Matt Diaz called out on strikes. Two out.
David Ross walks. Martin Prado to 3rd. Yunel Escobar to 2nd. Two out.
Casey Kotchman called out on strikes. Three out.
That’s the definition of walking a tightrope. Despite some unintelligent chatter about the Giants cutting Zito, he’s still around an average pitcher in the National League. Grossly overpaid? Most definitely. But there are worse pitchers (Bronson Arroyo, Livan Hernandez, Jeff Suppan) in the NL who are starting once every 5 days. Zito’s current WAR of 1.2 wins, puts him on pace for a season in the neighborhood of +2 wins — ie: an average pitcher in the NL.
In fact, since Zito joined the Giants, he’s actually pitching some of his best baseball this year.
Let’s check out a few of his peripherials:
A few encouraging signs for Zito. First, he’s striking out almost 7 hitters per 9 innings — a high mark since he joined the Giants. Second, after walking 5.1 hitters per 9 in ’08, he’s back to his career average for BB/9 of 3.71. Zito’s not a control pitcher, but you just can’t survive with marginal stuff when you’re walking 5+ per game.
Maybe the most important of all is that Zito is incuding infield flyballs at 11% this year — again, another high mark since he joined the Giants. It’s been proven that Zito’s IFFB% was a important indictator of his success in previous years. During his best years in Oakland he was posting rates between 13-16%. Why are IFFB’s so important? They are easily turned into outs. It’s an encouraging sign for Barry that while he hasn’t returned to his IFFB% to his Oakland days, it’s in the double-digits for the first time since he put on a Giants uni.
Zito is also leaving a few more runners on base this year and his FIP is at 4.47. FIP has never liked Zito all that much, but if he can rattle off a few 4.50 run seasons for the Giants while throwing 200+ innings a year, he’ll have some value.
The contract the Giants gave to Zito is still a gross overpay, make no mistake, but you really can’t cut him loose without replacing him with a pitcher that can match his +2 win per year contributions. Bumgarner and Alderson are great prospects but there’s little reason to believe that they could step into the Giants rotation, right now, and throw 200 innings while being an average pitcher in the NL. And, there’s no reason to start their service clocks now when they might not be a clear upgrade for the team. You’ll be paying them in arbitration sooner and without the added bonus of getting solid production in the present.
The Giants will have Zito under contract until 2013 (a $7M club buyout for 2014 exists). If he can continue to pitch like an average pitcher, the Giants won’t cut him. He’ll be overpaid. But, like it or not, the Giants won’t cut him.