Andrew Baggarly (from an article titled “Backsliding Zito means more pressure on Lincecum”):
The Giants simply can’t afford to caddy for their ace in nine consecutive losses when they’re also handicapped with a struggling Zito in the rotation. If that wasn’t already obvious, it became crystal clear after Zito gave up eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings of a 12-5 loss at Angel Stadium Tuesday night.
Here’s a data table with some comments.
Can you tell which one is Good Zito and which one is Bad Zito? You probably can’t, really, and that’s the point: There is no Good Zito, or Bad Zito, there’s just Zito. He’ll rattle off a few starts that are acceptable and then he’ll follow that up with a few stinkfests, walking guys, nibbling around the strike zone, and giving up the occasional home run. That’s Barry Zito. For as many years as we’ve watched him pitch, you’d think we’d have this figured out by now.
Looking at the data table, the first row is Zito’s 2011 season. The second is his current season in 2012. The stat lines are shockingly similar: he’s striking out batters at nearly the same rate, walking them at exactly the same rate, and giving up slightly fewer home runs. His BABIP, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA scores are nearly identical across the board. In other words: Zito’s underlying peripherals are nearly unchanged; he’s pretty much the same guy we’ve always seen. He’s throwing a ton of sliders this year, but the results are in line with what we’ve seen in past years.
Earlier in the season I theorized that Zito was giving up weaker contact on fly balls which, at the time, was a true statement; however, since that post, Zito’s average fly ball distance has increased from 249 feet to 269 feet. That increase of 20 feet per fly ball might not sound like a lot, but it drops Zito from #6 in baseball among starters all the way down to #38. The league average distance per fly ball is currently 272 feet. There’s an obvious correlation with fly ball distance and home run rate and — not shockingly — over that time frame Zito has given eight home runs in 44 innings pitched. Over those last eight starts, batters are hitting a combined .290/.363/.521 against Zito.
Is Barry Zito backsliding? No, I don’t think so. I think a better choice of words might be that Barry Zito is just Barry Zito-ing. He does this, folks. The quicker you can come to grips with it, the better.