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What happened to Barry Zito?

Aug 5, 2011, 8:25 AM EDT

zito scoul AP

There’s a column by Chris Jones up at Grantland. It’s about Barry Zito and it tries to figure out what has happened to the guy.

The premise: the famous Scott Boras binder, which he creates for all of his free agent clients, ruined him.  That it set a level of expectations and created a level of awareness in Zito that took him out of his zen-like live-in-the-moment mindset which gave him so much success when he was in Oakland.

It’s an interesting article and a good read whether you buy into that premise or not.  For my part, I think there’s probably a little something to it, because certainly the expectations and mood around Zito changed when he signed that deal with the Giants and that has to have at least some kind of an impact on a guy.

But I also tend to think that it’s a bit simpler than that too.  Zito was good, but not great in Oakland. Certainly not after his great 2002 and 2003 seasons.  In the three years before crossing the bay he was beginning to settle in to the classic soft-tossing lefty groove. And unless you’re Tom Glavine or Jamie Moyer, that doesn’t presage greatness, even if soft-tossing lefties are somewhat useful things to have around. Add in a downtick in velocity and you have a pretty good explanation of Barry Zito’s performance over the past five seasons.

The Giants gave $126 million to poor man’s Charlie Liebrandt, and that’s what they’ve got for the most part.  It’s not a terrible mystery nor is it a psychological case study.

  1. stinkfist5 - Aug 5, 2011 at 8:47 AM

    He grew a mustache.

    • paulsdamnblog - Aug 5, 2011 at 7:23 PM

      He grew a great mustache. One might even say the mustache chose Zito.

  2. missthemexpos - Aug 5, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    No doubt about it, the famous Scott Boras binder has also had the same effect on Jayson Werth.

  3. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Aug 5, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    Cutting to the chase, Zito just isn’t a great pitcher, hey he is not even a good one. A fourth or fifth starter for your team, maybe.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Aug 5, 2011 at 10:25 AM

      Exactly. Nothing happened to Zito or his skill, only expectations surrounding him.

      • mcchef - Aug 5, 2011 at 11:26 AM

        Nothing happened to his skill? Is that a joke? He won a Cy Young while pitching in Oakland. His skill, or lack there of, has dropped off dramatically.

      • dlevalley - Aug 5, 2011 at 12:16 PM

        I think what Heyward is saying is that nothing happened to Zito’s skill that wasn’t already expected to happen. He’s had the same, or even marginally better, BB, K, and HR ratios per 9.0 innings as he had his last three years in Oakland.

        He had an otherworldly curveball when he was 22-25. When he stopped being able to throw the curve for a strike on command, he lost a lot of value. Throw in the reduction in velocity on his already-soft fastball, and you have an eminently hittable pitcher. Exactly what a lot of people expected even before he signed his big deal with the Giants.

  4. hank10 - Aug 5, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    Sounds like the Jayson Werth story. Paycheck based on numbers and not how a player actually fits on a team. Werth was a perfect complimentary player on the Phillies, but in no way can be considered a player who a team is built around.

    • JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 10:23 AM

      Nobody who knows anything about “numbers” would ever suggest that Werth should have been given that contract.

      • sparkycon - Aug 5, 2011 at 6:46 PM

        so…you’re saying he’s not “Werth” it?

      • JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 9:06 PM

        Actually I went out of my way to avoid saying that, but yes…

    • hoopmatch - Aug 5, 2011 at 11:14 AM

      Congrats for saying “a player who a team is built around” instead of “a player that a team is built around.”

      It has always been a pet peeve of mine that 99 percent of people use the word “that” when “who” makes more sense.

      • mkd - Aug 5, 2011 at 12:49 PM

        There is really no rule to the who/that distinction except to generally say that “who” goes with a person and “that” goes with an non-person. Since “a player” could be considered an abstracted object rather than a person per se, using “that” is just a grammatically correct as “who”. It’s a gray area and not one worth get my pet in a peeve about.

  5. mojosmagic - Aug 5, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    Did the same thing for Jason Worth. Same premise, money can’t buy you love, or wins. Reality says if your a GM just avoid Mr. Boris.

  6. icanspeel - Aug 5, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    I also wonder.. Is the same level of competitiveness there once you get the huge contract? In all sports I see a lot of players have career years right before free agency, collect the big contract and just fall off play wise.

    • JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 10:34 AM

      The contract year effect, statistically speaking, is very small. Most guys don’t have career years going into free agency; in fact many of those guys have terrible years. But the ones who DO go crazy that season are remembered because they end up getting terrible contracts. Everyone remembers Gary Mathews Jr. No one remembers the other dozens of random outfielders in baseball who DIDN’T have particularly good seasons that year, and/or didn’t make the catch of the year, because no one gave those guys fifty million dollars.

  7. JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    The real lesson here: pitchers do NOT get better with age. For every Moyer who hangs around forever on craftyness, there’s about a hundred guys who lost that extra zip on their fastball at age 25 and where never the same.

    • FC - Aug 5, 2011 at 11:06 AM

      I would rephrase that to: not ALL pitchers get better with age. Since you do have some exceptions. My favorite is Nolan Ryan. Any 46 yr man who can put a 25 yr guy into a head-lock and pound him is tougher than leather!

      • JBerardi - Aug 5, 2011 at 4:54 PM

        Pitchers like Nolan Ryan don’t exist, except for Nolan Ryan.

  8. APBA Guy - Aug 5, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    Craig, you called it. He was in decline, relative to his first two years, when McGowan signed him as a marquee name to fill the stadium. And you are also correct in that he had devolved to a soft tossing lefty. Those guys need two things two survive, pin-point accuracy and a great head for spotting hitter’s weaknesses. Barry had neither. In fact, the chatter around the Bay Area was that his night-life was far more important to him than his conditioning or his preparation. While he did nothing scandalous, he always seemed to be out trying to push his singing career along, or was spotted in SoCal with some starlet.

    I think if we are honest about it, choosing the latter activity when you’re in your 20′s and pulling down 8 digits a year is awfully tempting. But that’s a contributor to why he isn’t great. When you’ve got fringe stuff, you have to make up for it with preparation and work.

  9. marshmallowsnake - Aug 5, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    Dare I say it…he was on Oakland with Tejada, and Giambi…

    I really believe that out of the Big Three, Hudson was the only clean one, as he has continued to pitch well in the NL. Zito and Mulder both flopped. Now, I know there is no proof, but speculation rules the day.

    • rhandome - Aug 5, 2011 at 1:30 PM

      Wait, you think BARRY ZITO was on steroids? The skinny guy with no upper-body muscles to speak of, who throws an 84-MPH fastball?

      • marshmallowsnake - Aug 5, 2011 at 6:03 PM

        Manny Alexander was caught with them…and he was not a specimen…so anything is possible.

      • cosanostra71 - Aug 5, 2011 at 7:08 PM

        marshmallow… it has less to do with his physique than it does that his game never relied on power pitches. His fastball was never a scorcher. He succeeded due to some very nice control on his pitches such as his once great curveball.

      • marshmallowsnake - Aug 5, 2011 at 7:45 PM

        I know, and I agree…but, in the back of my mind there is a problem with the way Zito and Mulder just dropped off after doing so well in the AL. But yeah, you are right with Zito.

  10. goawaydog - Aug 5, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    He also lost any zip he had on his fastball … 82mph should not be considered a fastball. When pitching out of the stretch he has no break on his curveball either. I think the Giants should just skip the 1st inning and spot the opponent 3 runs, it would save a lot of time and baseballs.

  11. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 5, 2011 at 12:50 PM

    I would guess there are several problems more significant than Zito’s disrupted Zen:

    **Barry’s age, as described above.

    **Giants defense. Tough to succeed as a flyball pitcher when 2/3 of your outfield is Burrell and Huff. Giants like them some old players and bad defenders. If I recall Oakland typically had some pretty good defensive teams (with the exception of some of their roidiest sluggers)

    **Public perception. I don’t know how to look it up, but I’m sure there are a lot of starting pitchers with lower WAR totals during the time Zito has spent with the Giants. I’m sure they don’t make as much money as him, but that is not his fault. If he was making $10MM/year I doubt these kinds of articles would be written.

  12. ballsout1950 - Aug 6, 2011 at 12:53 AM

    I think it is Cosmic payback for Zito referring to Roger Clemens as Cy Old after Zito won the Cy Young and was about to face Clemens in a game “It is CY Young against CY Old” is what I believe the quote was. The Cosmos hates hubris ;-)

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