Zito was Zito was Zito. That is, until he was vintage David Wells.
And in the sixth year of a seven-year contract, Barry Zito was a hero.
I'm not going to say that the postseason success of Zito makes his contract worth it. Because what does "worth it" really mean? Did you know that Barry Zito made more in one month than my 7th-grade teacher Mr. Wapensky made in his career? When faced with that kind of reality, you can't say for sure that a baseball player is "worth it." It's all context, people. Plus, I hated Mr. Wapensky, so now I can't remember the point I was trying to make. So, yeah, I guess Zito is worth it now when you put it like that.
In the sixth year of a seven-year contract, Barry Zito was a hero. An unlikely hero, to be sure. But if all he did was meet expectations in October, you probably would have had to watch a Cardinals/Tigers World Series, which sounds really, really boring. Zito pitching well in the playoffs felt like when the eagles showed up at the end of Lord of the Rings. Why didn't you just pitch that well the whole time/give the ring to the eagles in the first place? You could do that all along? What in the absolute hell?
There aren't a lot of World Series heroes in Giants history. Barry Zito is one of them.
It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world we live in. Flash back to last spring. I will never tire of recounting Zito's performance in the Cactus League. Nineteen innings. Thirty-two hits. Twelve walks. I haven't pitched in 20 years, but I can't imagine doing that much worse. It was a repugnant stretch of pitching. It was enough to make Zito top Jon Heyman's list of the worst free-agent deals of "alltime":
1. Zito. $126 million, 7 years, Giants. Five straight losing seasons, with two more to come.
So at least Zito wins at something.
Zing! And then in the sixth year of a seven-year contract, Barry Zito was a hero.
Spring training started with articles about Zito's revamped delivery, which are usually fluffy tales with as much meaning as the omnipresent "Best shape of his life!" and "learned a new pitch!" stories. Then you watched Zito from his new delivery, especially from the stretch. It looked like he was poopin'. It really was a new delivery, and the results were awful. After he was shellacked again toward the end of March, he had some insight:
"It's definitely something that requires attention," Zito said about his latest struggles.
"… as he gently adhered a Post-It note with the words "Figure out why no pitch good" to the front of his locker." Yeah, boy oh boy, when I get a sec, I'm going to have to really give this "sucking" thing some attention.
And in the sixth year … you get the idea. It's not like it makes any more sense with each repetition, though.
In the community projection for Zito, the following words, names, or phrases were used:
- Dirk Diggler
- racial epithets
- Ed Wood
- Aaron Rowand
Which is about right. And the following projection was made:
Bounced from rotation?: No
Eventual replacement?: N/A
The actual stats:
Bounced from rotation?: No
Eventual replacement?: A newer version of Zito with … positive memories attached?
The projection didn't take into account that AT&T Park was going to play like Petco Park on Jupiter, so the ERA wasn't that big of a whiff. Zito's ERA+ was 84; while I'm still not sold on the single-season park factor from 2012, I can believe that a 4.15 ERA in the 2013 National League isn't very good, especially when it comes at a pitchers' park. Zito was basically Zito.
Except he bookended his season with the two greatest moments of his Giants career.
Zito wasn't that much better than the guy hanging around for the previous five seasons. He just had much better timing than the other guy. One of my enduring memories of the end of Game 5 of the 2010 World Series was Zito cracking a joke to Tim Lincecum as they were hanging over the dugout rail, waiting for Brian Wilson to get the last out.
Zito could have sulked. On the inside, he probably was. But he was a good-if-reluctant cheerleader that postseason, paying attention to every pitch and joshing with his teammates. I liked that. I get that he was being paid tens of thousands of dollars for every pitch thrown throughout the season, but a lot of pitchers would have reacted much, much differently in that situation.
When it was his turn -- or when desperate circumstances intervened -- he shined. And we had faith in him the whole time. Barry Zito's 2012 wasn't that much different from his previous seasons, except for the part with the best danged thing he's ever come close to doing in a Giants uniform.