Posts Tagged ‘Oakland’

The term “winning with pitching” is not unheard of for national league teams.  Even right now just look at the 1st place Padres, they have a below average offense, stellar pitching and it’s working.  Well that was the idea that the San Francisco Giants had.  2007 was supposed to be the year that the Giants turned it around.  You see, ever since they came within a hair of winning the World Series in 2002 and then being booted from the playoffs by Florida in 03 the Giants were marred in obscurity.  They had made awful trades (Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, and Joe Nathan for A.J. Pierzynski) and the team essentially became a sideshow just waiting for Barry Bonds to pass Hank Aaron’s home run record.  Even worse the Giants offense had gotten so bad that Bonds in 2004 remains to this day the last man to hit 30 or more home runs for the team.

So by 2007 something needed to be done but it wasn’t all bad.  Noah Lowry was a promising young pitcher who had some nice years and Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were on the verge of becoming big stars.  But a talented veteran was needed to head up the rotation.  The Giants looked no further than across the bridge to one Barry Zito.  But who is Barry Zito?

Sexy...

Mysterious...

A rock star...

So yea he was a pretty popular player in Oakland but Zito was a free agent and it was time to cash in on his success.  Oakland wasn’t going to pay him but somebody was.  Zito was a California guy but the Mets we’re one of the teams that wanted Zito and at the time you could see that working out, a guy like Zito in New York, sure, makes sense.  But despite playing in Oakland he lived in San Francisco and the Giants stepped up to offer him (at the time) the largest major league contract in history (7 years 126 million) and with that Zito was a Giant.  And it made great sense.  Zito, who was still only 29 and in his prime could head up a young staff.  The Giants made their intentions clear, we want to win with pitching and in the NL, that’s really what you have to do.  Offenses in the NL for the most part consisted of guys who could steal bases, get sack flies and maybe a cleanup hitter who could hit 30 or so home runs and bat in the low to mid .200s.

Now while pitching in Oakland Zito averaged an ERA of 3.49 a year and a record of 102-63 with a Cy Young award thrown in there.  Not too shabby.  The problem was out of the 6 years Zito spent in Oakland he was only the best pitcher on the staff twice, the year he won the Cy Young (2002) and his final year.  But even his final year numbers were only average (16 wins, 3.8 ERA).  So was he REALLY an ace?  The Giants thought so.  I mean he did have good numbers in Oakland and he would be moving to the worst hitting division in baseball so yea he could probably be an ace.  But I don’t think anyone thought what was going to happen, would happen.

Zito’s first year as a Giant he posted an ERA of 4.53 and a record of 11-13.  I can forgive the record because their best offensive players were Barry Bonds way past his prime, Randy Winn, Pedro Feliz, and Benjie Molina.  Not exactly the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds of the 70s.  But the ERA of 4.5, that was a career high, what happened?!  Maybe it was just first year jitters, trying to live up to that big contract and having people boo you, can’t be easy.  But it was about to go from bad to worse.

2008 Would be Barry’s worst year as a pitcher with a dreadful 10-17 record and ERA of 5.15.  Zito started the year 0-6 with an ERA of 7.53 and the team had seen enough and sent him to the bullpen.  Zito didn’t make any appearances out of the pen but the message was loud and clear, PITCH BETTER!

2009 Was a little bit better for Zito.  He was 10-13 but the ERA was 4.03 so he was the victim of the occasional no run support but even so, he was brought in to be the ace and he was anything but.  An ERA over 4 is not ace stuff, it’s fine for a #3-#5 starter but not the ace.  But let’s be honest Lincecum and Cain were the #1 and #2 guys, Zito was #1 in name only.

But then came 2010 and it looked like the nightmare was over.  I mean Giants fans did have a lot to be hopeful about seeing how Zito did have a decent 09.  Things only got better when Zito started the year 5-0 with a 1.49 ERA.  Could it be?  Is this FINALLY the Zito the Giants paid for?  Yea those 3 years were rough but imagine if Zito finally got on track and turned back into the old Cy Young award-winning style of pitcher!  You’d have Lincecum the reigning back-to-back Cy Young award winner, all star Matt Cain, an up and coming Johnathan Sanchez who already had a no hitter under his belt, AND Barry Zito pitching like his old self?  Can you say playoffs?  Certainly looked that way early on, and to be fair, as of me writing this the Giants are still very much alive in the playoff race.  I mean look what Zito was doing!  His curve ball was unhittable!

But sadly it was not to be.  As it stands now Zito is 8-9 with a 4.07 ERA, that 5-0 seems like forever ago.  In August Zito posted a 6.23 ERA and 0-3 record.  So now what?

Part of me thinks if the Giants fail to make the playoffs this year, or even if they do, that the Barry Zito experiment is over in San Francisco barring a huge miracle.  He’s not pitching well, the fans don’t like him, and he’s lost 14 more games than he’s won.  All the things that made people in California like Zito (the laid back attitude, the yoga, the music) now people don’t like.  You can get away with being a little different or unique when you’re producing, when you’re not, you’re annoying.  Take a hint from the team across the Bay with what they did to JaMarcus Russell.  Sure you’ll owe him a ton of money (unless you find a trade partner which seems really unlikely) but sometimes you just gotta move on.  But don’t feel bad for Zito, he’ll land on his feet.  I can think of 10 teams off the top of my head that LOVE reclamation projects, good teams too like Boston and New York (not the Mets, I said good teams).  I mean everyone loves left-handed pitchers anyway.

But it makes you wonder, why has it not worked out?  Zito had everything in his favor, he was moving to the weak hitting NL West, he was pitching in a park that consistently leads the league in least amount of home runs allowed, he was pitching in a city he had lived in for 7 years, and that part of the country knew what he was capable of and loved him.  Zito isn’t the first player to flop after signing a big contract and he wont be the last but he is one of the more perplexing busts.  Usually it’s the other way around, pitchers from the NL can’t cut it in the AL (look up Chris Carpenters numbers in Toronto and then St. Louis, and then look up Javier Vazquez’s numbers in New York/Chicago and then Atlanta).  So might Zito be better off in the AL?  Maybe even as a #4 or 5 starter?  It’s possible.  I’m confident the future isn’t that bleak for Zito but chances are the future isn’t in San Francisco.