Hah. The "best shape of his life" story strikes again! All of last spring, we were shoveled stories about how Barry Zito was in the best shape of his life, and how he had spent all offseason throwing baseballs across a canyon to build arm strength, and blah blah blah. And then all he did was regain velocity, arm strength, and bite to his curveball. Pfft. Those stories are always such balo...
Wait. That one actually came true. Zito had the highest strikeout rate since his first full season -- higher than his Cy Young season, even. Heck, he struck out hitters at a higher rate than Matt Cain, Roy Oswalt, and Chris Carpenter. Zito’s walk rate reverted back to the poor-not-dreadful figure that we’re used to. What used to be the easiest prediction in the lot -- I used to have a formula* and everything -- now gets a bit complicated. Barry Zito, scourge of the payroll, prince of dashed expectations, is now a pretty good pitcher to have on the team.
Is he worth the GDP of Belgium? No, and he never will be. But if can replicate last season for the next four years, the contract is going to be a substantial overpayment, not a historical debacle. That might seem like semantics to you, but it sure would make me feel better. And if the Giants were hurting for a top-of-the-rotation ace, maybe Zito’s renewed adequacy wouldn’t be so comforting, but with this rotation, he fits in well.
The history of wrong, wrong, wrong Zito projections:
2007 -- He’ll be great! (He wasn’t.)
2008 -- Don’t worry, he’ll rebound! (He didn’t. He was boxed out by reality.)
2009 -- Screw this. He’s going to stink again. (He was just fine.)
So I know what you’re thinking. "Just predict another terrible Zito year, and watch him make you look like an idiot again." It doesn’t work like that. Earnest ragging needs to be earnest. You can’t trick the baseball gods. They’re humorless SOBs. Well, until Bengie Molina hits one into triples alley, and he starts thinking about third base...the baseball gods are pretty funny then. Most of the time, though, they know when you’re trying to mess with them, and they don’t like it. You have to put an honest prediction out there, and then you’ll change the future. Science.
The established projection systems:
PECOTA: 181 IP, 4.49 ERA, 135 K, 75 BB, 21 HR
ZiPS: 184 IP, 4.48 ERA, 132 K, 83 BB, 21 HR
Bill James: 196 IP, 3.95 ERA, 140 K, 83 BB, 22 HR
CHONE: 171 IP, 4.58 ERA, 126 K, 82 BB, 19 HR
So Zito improves his strikeout rate, cuts down the walks, and his projections get worse. *rolls up newspaper* Bad computers! Bad!
Eh. They’re probably right. But going with Bill James on this one:
* Start with 190 innings; divide by two to get the walk total; add ten or so to the walk total to get the strikeout total; carefully weigh out a metric asston of home runs; sprinkle liberally with Dave Matthews jokes; add one run to his ERA for every member of the Doobie Brothers; garnish with resigned frustration.