Which Barry Zito will we see in 2013? Probably the same one we've seen for the last six (!) years.
Last year, we did the Barry Zito projection after spring training. This caused the projections to be a little biased, as Zito had a miserable spring training. The biggest obstacle to Zito pitching in the NLCS in 2012, for example, was that he was still allowing runners in a spring-training game at the time. He was ghastly.
Then he pitched the 19th shutout in Coors Field history.
Then he was Barry Zito again, for better or for worse. Somehow, there was this idea floating around that he was having a comeback year, but no, he was pretty much the same Barry Zito. His ERA was 4.15 in 2012. His ERA was 4.15 in 2010. Yet in one of those seasons, he was a blight on the roster, someone not even worthy of a roster spot in the playoffs. In the other one, he was having a renaissance. Go figure.
Then he was a postseason hero. We shouldn't read too much into those three games, just as we shouldn't read too much into his first three starts April (1.71 ERA) or three games from the middle of June (14.1 innings pitched, five homers, 10.67 ERA). We should, however, continue to marvel at how beautifully timed and welcome those playoff starts were. Down 3-1 in the series, on the road, with Barry Zito taking the ball.
Then he was traded to the Chiefs for a second-round pick and a conditional third-round pick. At least, he will be. That seems like an excellent return.
But what should we expect from Barry Zito this year? It seems almost impossible to remove the remora of good feelings he left in our brain. There were a lot of words that would pop up in a word-association game with Zito at this time last year. Release. Contract. Decline. 83 miles per hour. Hittable. Thief. Stop thief. Hey, that guy took my wallet. Come back, thief. And now the word-association game is much different. Hero. Postseason hero. The greatest pitcher in an NLCS Game 5 against the Cardinals in postseason history.
And don't forget that Barry Zito has more career hits against Justin Verlander than does Dustin Pedroia. It truly is strange to have this flood of positive Zito-related memories wash over you whenever his name comes up. I'm sure this will last until his first bad start.
As much as I want to pooh-pooh the idea of a productive Barry Zito, it's worth pointing out something about his two halves:
Microsplits! While he allowed runs at the same rate, his command got much better, likely leading to more strikeouts. And, I swear this is the last time I'll share this graph until the next time, but something was different with Zito.
His curveball had more downward break, and less sweeping break. That is, it looked like the 12-to-6 curveball that got him $126 million in the first place. And it's easy to see why the curve game back. He was on top of his delivery, or, wait ... his follow-through was improved by 31 clicks ... wait, no, it was his elbow pronation and the tides ... okay, look, I don't know anything about this crap.
But we know what a good Barry Zito curve looks like, and we know how infrequent they can be. Toward the end of last season and through the playoffs, we saw a lot more of them.
I'm more inclined to say that improved mechanics begat the improved curve and improved command at the same time, rather than the improved curve was the thing that helped his K-rate and BB-rate.
I'm also inclined to say that if he could lose those mechanics while driving over the Bay Bridge in 2006, he can lose it on the plane back from Phoenix. So while I'm more optimistic about Zito being a decent fifth starter than I was at this time last year, I'm not going to go crazy with the optimism.
Extension: Seven more years