First, an image from SFGiants.com:
Oh, that’s delightful. Splash images on MLB.com websites often range from stupid to really stupid, but I think there’s something to the prevailing notion that Barry Zito could possibly start a game in the playoffs. The Giants intend on taking five starters into the postseason, with the plan to shift one of Zito or Vogelsong into the bullpen. Barry Zito is, in fact, a starting human being. Therefore: he could start in the playoffs!
If you’ve been cognizant for the last, oh, say, five years of Giants baseball, then you realize that while Barry Zito’s 2012 has been a pretty nice thing to see — in the way that finding an extra pair of clean socks that you didn’t know you had is a nice thing — but, as I touched on briefly earlier in the season, not much has actually changed with Barry Zito the pitcher. Sure, he’s throwing more sliders than ever — 31.5 percent of all pitches according to PITCHf/x — but the results are shockingly — or non-shockingly — similar to what he’s done in the past.
This is a simple line graph of Zito’s strikeouts, walks, and home runs per nine. The basic building blocks of a pitcher. As you can see, Zito has lowered his walk rate, but he’s also posting a career low in strikeouts per nine.
Zito’s plummeting strikeout rate looks worse if you simply scale it to 100 versus the league average. (100 being a league average K/9; park factors not included in the scale.)
Year Scale 2007 90 2008 88 2009 103 2010 95 2011 75 2012 72
It’s an admittedly crude measurement, but Zito is approximately 28 percent below the league average strikeout rate in 2012. He was much closer in previous years to an average rate, but his continued decline in velocity — Zito throws around 83-84 mph these days — has eroded his K/9 rate. Jamie Moyer posted a stronger K/9 rate (5.70) this season. Of course, Zito has never been a pitcher that’s racked up strikeouts, but the 2012 version of Zito is one that relies a lot on the defense that plays behind him, more so than ever before.
It’s also been said that Zito’s warm-up routine isn’t one that lends itself to bullpen work. So, something else to keep in mind when trying to configure the postseason roster.
Zito’s season, while not spectacular, has been a welcome addition to the Giants. Despite his WAR (0.6), which paints him as a below average pitcher, he’s soaked up innings for the Giants and he’s held his own. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of a “fifth starter.”
He should make the roster. He shouldn’t start any games. For a player that was left off the 2010 postsesaon roster entirely, it’s a pretty good accomplishment. Though, I have to say, as mean as it sounds, I’m not sure what purpose Zito will serve on the roster if he’s not starting, which he shouldn’t. He’ll make the roster. And I’ll be happy for him, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m not sure Zito serves a purpose in the playoffs.