It's Opening Day, and the Gates Are Now Open...

And the first guy in line is way into it, decked out in full uniform. He says he's on the team. Says "Bruce" has him in the starting rotation. But you have it on good authority that someone named Bruce does not want this guy in the park. Do you let him in? Or do you tell him that his tickets are no good and send him to watch through the fence in the right field archways?

It's only fitting that the first post I choose to write on this blog is in defense of Barry Zito. If you've followed my writing at all, I'm pretty much due for one. It's been over six months.

Anyways, by now most Giants faithful have seen this select piece of journalistic detective work by Bruce Jenkins. I read this and laughed. A lot. And then I woke up from my dream within a dream, realized that this piece was actually published, and laughed some more.

Facts are facts, but there's one that has to be disregarded when it comes to Zito: his contract. Major League Baseball is not the NBA, NFL, or NHL. There is no salary cap. Which means that there aren't any buyouts (unless previously stipulated), there aren't any trade exceptions, and there aren't any instances of "contract restructuring."

Given those facts, and given the fact that the MLBPA will NEVER allow Zito to get less than his $126 million, which EVERYONE knows is way too much for someone who was the Ace of Clubs in the Oakland A's Three Aces rotation, let's look at some more facts.

Barry Zito had more quality starts (19) than the following pitchers: Cliff Lee (18), Johan Santana (17), and Derek Lowe (15).

Barry Zito had less run support (3.6 p/game) than the following pitchers: Joe Blanton (6.1), Paul Maholm (3.9), Jeremy Bonderman (5.1), and the entire Rangers rotation (4.9).

Barry Zito had a better ERA than at least two starters on all of the playoff teams:
  • Atlanta (Jurrjens, Kawakami)
  • New York (Burnett, Hughes, Vasquez)
  • Minnesota (Baker, Slowey, Blackburn)
  • Philadelphia (Kendrick, Blanton, Moyer)
  • Cincinnati (Leake, Harang, Bailey)
  • Texas (Feldman, Harden)
  • Tampa Bay (Shields, Niemann)
Basically, at his best this season, Barry Zito was better than some of the best pitchers in baseball at keeping his team at the game. At the same time, Barry Zito had no run support in those games. If we want to go with the theme, Barry Zito was the WORST pitcher in the league at firing up his teammates to do well behind him.

And when you subtract the money from the equation, WHY would you ever think of letting go of this guy? If you look at those teams above, he's at the very least, the best fifth starter in baseball.

He's not an automatic loss. He's a competitor. I really don't think that opposing hitters relish going up against Barry Zito because he's easy.

Just take the money out. The Giants have already done that. They've got four pitchers with solid major league experience, and one that came out of the minors about as ready as they can.

Aside from that, there's not much depth to the Giants rotation. Sure, Jeff Suppan pitched great his first time out, but check this out:

Pitcher A: 3-0, 15 K, 30 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.233 WHIP
Pitcher B: 2-1, 7 K, 18.2 IP, 2.89 ERA, 1.099 WHIP
Pitcher C: 0-2, 16 K, 22.2 IP, 6.35 ERA, 1.982 WHIP
Pitcher D: 0-2, 16 K, 11.2 IP, 6.94 ERA, 2.500 WHIP

Pitcher A? That's Todd Wellemeyer. The same Todd Wellemeyer that went 3-5 with a 5.68 ERA and was eventually replaced by Madison Bumgarner after getting injured.

Pitcher B? That's Kevin Pucetas, another favorite for the fifth spot in the rotation. He went 5-7 with a 5.69 ERA for AAA Fresno before being flipped to Kansas City for Jose Guillen.

Pitcher C? That's Barry Zito.

Pitcher D? Tim Lincecum.

What's this mean? It means Spring Training means nothing. It means that a veteran who has had success in the past can blow through the Cactus League, a la Todd WeLOLemeyer (or Suppan), and then get lit up in the regular season.

It means that a solid prospect can make a great impression, a la Pucetas (or Clayton Tanner), but really just not be MLB ready. Or that your ace can look human, a la Lincecum, and then strike out 14 Braves in his playoff debut.

It boils down to this: take out the money, and this conversation about Barry Zito would never happen. Ever. And given that this contract was signed five years ago, and cannot, and will not, and shall never be modified or renegotiated, the money does not matter.

Heck, it's not like the Giants can't afford it. They quietly amassed a payroll over $100M for the first time this year. And if you take out the Zito and Rowand contracts, it's really down near $75M. Their privately-owned stadium rakes in over 3M fans per year, consistently. And Bill Neukom is certainly not throwing the team's money into a Ponzi scheme or whatever is happening up there in Flushing.

So when it comes to Barry Zito, the best worst pitcher on a rotation in baseball, give it a rest. Leave the money alone. Sure, it's $18.5M that could be going elsewhere, but really? The guy plays guitar, hosts awesome charity events, and rocks purple sweaters to the Play Ball Luncheon.

He's not a bad guy. Let him be.


  1. Its simple economics. Zito's contract is a sunk cost, and shouldn't be taken into consideration in future economic decisions. As you have pointed out, his numbers speak for themself, which are one of the factors in determining if he deserves a roster spot.

  2. Exactly. If he was making $5M, this discussion wouldn't be happening. But since there's no salary cap, and the Giants aren't hurting for cash, why consider cutting him solely for salary's sake?

  3. The economics of it are what kills me, and not because I'm on the side of trying to ditch Zito. It's about replacement value. If, for some ridiculous reason, Zito were to be cut free, we'd still have to pay him and we'd have to pay someone to replace him, and whoever replaced him is just about guaranteed to not be as good. There's also a likelihood that the replacement would need more bullpen support than Zito. So we'd be spending more money to have worse pitching and put more strain on the rest of the staff. I just cannot even begin to see how it's even being discussed as an option.

    And, unrelated, congrats and welcome!

  4. see? why can't we have all these economics-savvy people speaking up more? Now, if he walks like 60% of everyone he faces this Spring, and that carries over into the first month of the season, I'd have to reconsider. But until then, leave it alone.

    And thanks!

  5. Absolutely, if he tanks hard in regular season and there is an acceptable replacement available, then it's a different discussion, but really? Odds of that happening are awfully low, from what I see.

    That and really, if we're going to talk about economics, Rowand is the prime target. Not only are we not getting our value out of him, he's muddying the waters for other players.

  6. Again, agreed. With Zito, he's got the whole "expensive but who else is there?" With Rowand, he's expensive AND blocking a lot of players from a roster spot. The Giants could (and do) have a much cheaper fourth or fifth outfielder in camp right now, which makes Rowand's situation just kind of uncomfortable because he's taken his demotion so nicely.

  7. The Rowand thing is just awkward and uncomfortable for all concerned, certainly made more so, kind of ironically, by the fact that the players involved are by all accounts so damnably nice. I just don't see Rowand having a long term future with the Giants, though, and I've gotta be honest and say that that is not something that I find particularly displeasing in the least.

  8. Yeah you almost wish he was a Milton Bradley type so the Giants would have an excuse to do something. But there's no drunk driving, or teammate beating, or anything weird like that. Just quiet, diligent, "I'm going to change my stance a little bit so that it doesn't look like I'm pooping and people make fun of me less" Aaron Rowand. And that's about it.