Should Giants cut ties with Zito?

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Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News says it’s time to cut $126-million man Barry Zito loose:

So there’s a test coming up for new
owner Bill Neukom and General Manager Brian Sabean. A big one. And it
could come in a matter of days (Zito is slated to start Saturday in
Pittsburgh) or, at the most, a few weeks.

They have to seriously consider
pulling Zito from the rotation when and if Randy Johnson is ready to
go, presuming Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Sadowski hold up. And the
Giants have to very seriously consider trying to trade Zito to any
suitable team that will take some of his money (Zito has a no-trade
clause); or they have to think about releasing him in the off-season.

With Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter still fresh in our minds, Zito is an
easy target. He was pounded in his last start before the break,
allowing a season-high nine runs over 4 1/3 innings against the Padres.
We all know the contract is awful, arguably one of the worst ever,
but so far in 2009, Zito has compiled his best FIP as a member of the
Giants at 4.59. He’s allowed three runs or less in 10 of 18 starts this
season. The beneficiary of lowered expectations, he’s on pace for his
best FIP since 2005 as a member of the Athletics.

With the emergence of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and assuming that
Randy Johnson can get healthy, Zito doesn’t need to be anything more
than a fourth or fifth starter for this team. They would benefit more
by dealing Sanchez (at his highest value) for a bat. Finding a taker
for Zito will be near impossible, unless, of course, they would be
willing to take on another albatross like Vernon Wells. Even that is
doubtful.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.