What happened to Barry Zito?

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There’s a column by Chris Jones up at Grantland. It’s about Barry Zito and it tries to figure out what has happened to the guy.

The premise: the famous Scott Boras binder, which he creates for all of his free agent clients, ruined him.  That it set a level of expectations and created a level of awareness in Zito that took him out of his zen-like live-in-the-moment mindset which gave him so much success when he was in Oakland.

It’s an interesting article and a good read whether you buy into that premise or not.  For my part, I think there’s probably a little something to it, because certainly the expectations and mood around Zito changed when he signed that deal with the Giants and that has to have at least some kind of an impact on a guy.

But I also tend to think that it’s a bit simpler than that too.  Zito was good, but not great in Oakland. Certainly not after his great 2002 and 2003 seasons.  In the three years before crossing the bay he was beginning to settle in to the classic soft-tossing lefty groove. And unless you’re Tom Glavine or Jamie Moyer, that doesn’t presage greatness, even if soft-tossing lefties are somewhat useful things to have around. Add in a downtick in velocity and you have a pretty good explanation of Barry Zito’s performance over the past five seasons.

The Giants gave $126 million to poor man’s Charlie Liebrandt, and that’s what they’ve got for the most part.  It’s not a terrible mystery nor is it a psychological case study.

Max Scherzer will not be ready for Opening Day

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Ten days ago Nationals ace Max Scherzer said he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. “I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said.

[Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice] — No, he’s not:

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team’s opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation.

He’s still projected to make it to the opening rotation, taking the hill, most likely, on Thursday April 6 against the Marlins. At least if the schedule doesn’t slip any more.

Scherzer, as you probably know, has a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, which has messed with his preparation and has caused him to alter his grip a bit. As of now Stephen Strasburg will get the Opening Day nod.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.