San Francisco Chronicle columnist says Giants might release Barry Zito before Opening Day

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Bruce Jenkins is a longtime San Francisco Chronicle writer, so his column today suggesting the Giants may release Barry Zito and eat the remainder of his contract is likely to get a lot of attention, but … well, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Jenkins starts by writing that Zito “is walking a very fine line within the organization” and then says an unnamed source told him “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.”

Why would the defending World Series champions suddenly feel the need to ditch Zito? According to Jenkins “there’s a healthy sense of urgency” because “they didn’t clinch a postseason berth until the final game of the 2010 season and they realize that just a single loss–something that could be avoided–could cost them a chance to repeat.”

Huh? So, because the Giants got into the playoffs by a slim margin they’re thinking about releasing a pitcher who threw 199 innings with a perfectly decent 4.15 ERA last season and is still owed $65 million through 2013?

And what kind of logic is “they realize that just a single loss–something that could be avoided–could cost them a chance to repeat”? Every team in baseball is going to lose at least 60 times this season, so referring to “a single loss” as “something that could be avoided” sure seems like nothing more than a lame attempt to stir the pot around Zito.

Jenkins goes on to cite Zito’s lack of offseason conditioning and poor spring training debut, which are certainly legitimate issues, but the notion that they’re ready to ditch him a month before Opening Day rings pretty hollow when Jenkins also writes that “the Giants will take a close look at 16-year veteran Jeff Suppan” as one of the “other options” for the fifth spot in the rotation. The same Jeff Suppan who’s 10-20 with a 5.20 ERA in the past two seasons and hasn’t had an ERA as low as Zito’s 2010 mark since 2006.

There’s no doubt that signing Zito to a seven-year, $126 million contract was a mistake and there’s little doubt that the Giants would have gotten rid of him already if not for the money he’s still owed, but Zito has a 4.09 ERA during the past two seasons and releasing him isn’t going to save any of that money. He’s among the best fifth starters in baseball and is certainly better than Suppan or the Giants’ other options. Maybe Jenkins has inside information, in which case I’ll gladly apologize for doubting him, but until then his column looks like an all-too-familiar attempt to “get people talking” by generating some false controversy.

Hunter Pence is mashing for the Rangers

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Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.

Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.

Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.

What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.