Barry Zito is 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA and Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News wrote a lengthy article about the oft-criticized southpaw’s resurgence, noting that he’s gone from “the most sunken of sunk costs” to thinking about pitching until he’s Jamie Moyer’s age.
One great month after multiple hugely disappointing seasons obviously doesn’t mean a ton, but what’s interesting about Zito’s turnaround is that it actually dates back to last season. In fact, since last year’s All-Star break Zito has the sixth-best ERA in all of baseball among pitchers with at least 100 innings:
Adam Wainwright 141 2.11
Zack Greinke 134 2.29
Tim Lincecum 133 2.30
Chris Carpenter 140 2.38
Felix Hernandez 150 2.39
BARRY ZITO 113 2.46
Roy Halladay 156 2.48
Ubaldo Jimenez 137 2.50
Pretty decent company, huh? Fan Graphs’ detailed pitch breakdowns show that Zito’s fastball velocity hasn’t improved any during his impressive run, but he’s throwing his fastball less often than ever before while simultaneously having more success than ever with his off-speed pitches.
Zito is among the few pitchers to throw his fastball less than 50 percent of the time–with Moyer not coincidentally being another one–which is certainly a sensible approach given that he works in the mid-80s most of the time and has been incredibly effective with both his curveball and slider of late. It remains to be seen if the all junk, all the time approach can keep working for Zito, but it’s been quite a turnaround after heading into last year’s All-Star break at 5-9 with a 5.01 ERA.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.