Eating Zito

Posted By on March 2, 2011 10:01 am

Bruce Jenkins of the Chronicle reports today the Giants would seriously considering eating the rest of Barry Zito’s contract to get rid of him.

A source close to the team indicated Tuesday that there is “exasperation” with Zito, that his status as the No. 5 starter is “definitely not safe,” and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that’s what it takes to say farewell.

This is a fascinating development. Obviously, whoever said that to Bruce knew it was going to be in the newspaper, so it was clearly intended as a message to Zito.

The questions now are

1. Would the Giants really do it?

2. Will Zito respond to this threat by pitching better?

My guess is the answers to both are no.

As for No. 1, the Giants owe Zito $64.5 million. That’s $18.5M in ’11, $19M in ’12, $20M in ’13 and a $7M buyout of his option in ’14. That’s a lot of money. Finally, you have to add in the cost of another pitcher to replace Zito. You’re thinking Big deal. Any stiff from the minor leagues could do what Zito does for the minimum. But I think that underestimates Zito.

It’s easy to look at his lousy performances and throw your hands up and think he’s just awful, but you forget that he’s not always bad. The numbers don’t lie. Over his entire Giants career, Zito has a 4.45 ERA. Over the past two seasons, his ERA is 4.09. His ERA+, which adjusts for league and ballpark, is 103, which means he’s actually 3 percent above average. He’s still pitched 180 to 200 innings each season. Here are the pitchers who have pitched at least 360 innings over the past two years, with an ERA+ of 100 to 110:

Rk             Player ERA+    IP  W  L W-L%  ERA
1 Jon Garland 109 404.0 25 25 .500 3.74
2 Matt Garza 108 407.2 23 22 .511 3.93
3 Javier Vazquez 107 376.2 25 20 .556 3.89
4 Bronson Arroyo 107 436.0 32 23 .582 3.86
5 John Lackey 107 391.1 25 19 .568 4.14
6 Randy Wolf 107 430.0 24 19 .558 3.70
7 Ricky Romero 106 388.0 27 18 .600 3.99
8 Yovani Gallardo 105 370.2 27 19 .587 3.79
9 Barry Zito 103 391.1 19 27 .413 4.09
10 Chad Billingsley 102 388.0 24 22 .522 3.80
11 Kevin Millwood 102 389.1 17 26 .395 4.37

That’s not a terrible list. In fact, some of those are pitchers that you might even call… good. The point is that Zito still soaks up innings and gives you a passable performance on average. I’m not saying he’s worth $18 million. But I don’t think you can just snap your fingers and find someone to do that for $400,000. Do you think Jeff Suppan could do that? This is a guy who got run out of town by the Brewers, who have one of the worst rotations in the majors. Do you think Clayton Tanner could do that? He had a 3.68 ERA last year at Double-A.

Teams still pay decent money for guys who can reliably do what Zito does. Not $18 million, but certainly not $400,000. The Dodgers signed Jon Garland to a $5 million deal with an option for $8 million. The Brewers last year signed Randy Wolf for three years, $29.75 million.

Point is, Zito is not as bad as you’d think. To whatever money you pay Zito not to pitch for you, you are going to have add a few million bucks to pay the guy who takes his place.

Now, as for question No. 2, whether the Giants’ threat will help Zito, I am very skeptical. I’m going to play arm-chair psychologist here a little, based simply on my conversations with Zito and being around him for the last 10 years (wow, it’s been that long). I don’t think he’s a guy who will respond well to threats, especially if the threat doesn’t involving him losing his money. “You can have your $64 million, but we won’t let you wear our uniform!” Zito might actually be thinking that he’s fed up with the whole Giants scene and that he’d be better off going someplace else anyway. I really don’t think Zito’s problem is a lack of hard work or that he doesn’t care. I think he just isn’t as good of a pitcher as the Giants thought he was, and that’s their fault, not his.

Definitely stay tuned to this one. It’ll be interesting to see what Zito has to say about it.


3 Responses to “Eating Zito”

  1. Pat says:

    Totally agree. It would be stupid to cut him, and it sounds absurd that this criticism comes after one spring start.

  2. robert says:

    I agree, too. People need to get over the money issue. Yes, he’s overpaid. Yes, it was a bad deal. But it happened and nothing will change it. Zito’s a decent pitcher, probably one of the best number five pitchers in the league. When he has control, he’s good; when he doesn’t, he isn’t.

  3. slamdunk says:

    No way the Giants eat Zito, there is too much money on the table, and they really don’t have a replacement waiting to take his place. I don’t count Suppan. Giants will be lucky if Zito ends up with a record around .500. This is not great, but it is acceptable for a fifth starter, who at least gets you some innings pitched.

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