Barry disappointing

It was 2002, and Oakland A’s lefty Barry Zito was everybody’s favorite young pitcher, or so it seemed. Zito, a crafty lefty with a big curve ball, won the AL’s Cy Young Award, going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA. He was just 24 years old and was the poster boy for Billy Beane’s money ball project. Zito’s fast ball topped out in the upper 80’s at best, but with great command and one of the game’s best curve balls, he was able to out think hitters. Zito debuted halfway through the 2000 season at the age of 22 and immediately impressed, putting up a 2.72 ERA in 14 starts. Over his next 6 seasons with the Athletics, Zito topped 200 innings every year. With solid seasons in 2001 and 2002, his first full seasons in the big leagues, Zito appeared to be one of the game’s rising stars. In 2003, Oakland gave him little run support and he finished 14-12. But, upon closer look at his numbers, there was reason for concern. Zito’s strike outs dropped from 205 in 2001 and 182 in 2002, to 146 in 2003.

While in Oakland, he was known for his off-field antics, which included sleeping with a teddy bear, attending concerts of the legendary jam band Phish and going across The Bay to San Francisco with his guitar and performing as a street musician. However, Zito’s neo-hippie charm wore off as soon as he stopped being a great pitcher. Despite Zito’s drop from “elite” to “decent”, the San Francisco Giants signed him to a 7 year $126 million contract, the largest contract ever for a pitcher. In the last 4 seasons, Zito has an average ERA of 4.18, by no means terrible, but by no means deserving of such a contract. Zito did the smart thing in 2006, replacing agent Arn Tellem with superagent Scott Boras, who negotiated the record setting deal. The Giants’ willingness to sign Zito to that contract must stem from his durability. But the numbers show that Barry Zito has been a massive disappointment in the one year since the contract. In 2007, Zito went 11-13 with a career high 4.53 ERA and career low 131 strike outs. In his opening day start for 2008, he had an underwhelming 5 innings 4 ER performance, and was consistently clocked at 83-84 mph with his fastball. Big league hitters will feast on that like Dmitri Young at Big Boy’s breakfast buffet, no matter how good the curve ball is. Is it too early to call Zito’s time with the Giants a bust? Perhaps. However, the alarming trend of mediocrity over the past several years suggests Zito is only slightly better than Nate Robertson.

Past 3 seasons: Barry Zito’s ERA: 4.07. WHIP: 1.32

Nate Robertson’s ERA: 4.36 ERA. WHIP: 1.38

Zito’s large contract and disappointing performance puts him in fine company.


-Kevin Brown, 7 years $105 million with the Dodgers

-Mike Hampton, 8 years $121 million with the Rockies

-Chan Ho Park, 5 years $65 million with the Rangers

-Darren Dreifort, 5 years $55 million with the Dodgers

-Denny Neagle, 5 years $51 million with the Rockies

More importantly, Zito’s contract established a precedent for left handed starters that will hit the free agent market in the future. After being traded to the New York Mets this last offseason, Johan Santana signed a 6 year, $137 million contract. Last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner, C.C. Sabathia, figures to be the most sought after commodity in the 2008 free agency class. The league’s biggest market teams, especially the Yankees and Dodgers, are assumed to be interested in Sabathia. Surely, Sabathia and his representatives will ask the the Dolans and Mark Shapiro in Cleveland to consider the contract that Zito received in the negotiating process. The question will be how much C.C. really loves Cleveland, the organization which he has been a part of since the age of 17, and what’s more important: getting maximum market value from a team like the Yankees or Dodgers, or the chance to win a world series with the organization he has been with for so long? One thing is sure: Zito’s contract has given starting pitchers, like Sabathia, much leverage in future negotiations.

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