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Why Barry Zito is better than Cliff Lee

Couldn't think of a headline, so I thought I'd troll Yahoo! for yuks.

The Giants have a very, very nice rotation. They will for a while, too. Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez are under team control for the next two seasons, Tim Lincecum is around for at least the next three, Madison Bumgarner is here for at least five more seasons, and Barry Zito is for the next forty-seven. It’s an enviable position. This is a young rotation that has already won a World Series, and there aren’t a lot of tough decisions to make for a while.

But if I see one more snarky comment from a Giants fan that mentions the Phillies having the second-best rotation in the game, I’m going to…why, I’ll…I’ll write a blog post.

I love the Giants’ rotation. But the third spot in the rotation belongs to a guy whom I don’t quite trust. The Giants don’t make the playoffs in 2010 if Jonathan Sanchez doesn’t pitch as well as he did last season. He started when the Giants clinched, and he should have been the winning pitcher in the Brooks Conrad game. Teams would do well to have him as a third starter; the Giants have done well to have him as a third starter.

Don’t trust him, though. Not in that Lee/Halladay/Oswalt/Hamels sense. Nope. Not even close. The lack of trust doesn’t have a ton to do with the last three performances he had in the playoffs – if I’m judging pitchers just on small playoff samples, I’d be laughing at the Phillies for paying Barry Zito money to a guy who can’t win in the World Series. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the clinching game and Game Three of the World Series, actually – if not for a two-out home run, Sanchez was on his way to a five-inning, 110-pitch, one-run special. No, the distrust of Jonathan Sanchez has to do with him being all Jonathan Sanchezy. He doesn’t have good control. He doesn’t have average control. He just walked you as you were reading this.

Last year, the below-average control didn’t hurt him that much because he didn’t allow a lot of hits. With runners in scoring position, he held hitters to a .194 batting average. That’s great. It’s also something that might not be sustainable. So if he’s going to be as good as he was last year, he’s going to have to hone his command. It can happen. Randy Johnson is the most obvious and recent example of a left-handed pitcher who went from good to great to legendary just by improving his control. Sanchez has that potential. He’s still very much an unknown, though. I just copied-and-pasted those last three sentences from a post from two years ago.

I’m still very, very optimistic about next season. I love that Sanchez made forward progress last year, and I love that he’s a part of this rotation. So if I have a point, then, it’s this: don’t grab your crotch and waggle it at the rest of the baseball world just yet. Well, do it because the Giants won the World Series – that’s always appropriate – but don’t do it because you think they’re filled with invincible, untouchable pitchers. They’re not. They’re filled with great pitchers, good pitchers with great potential, and a spiffily dressed sack of average who should probably pick up every tab at every restaurant they ever eat at. It’s an enviable position, but it’s not time to act like a Yankees fan.

Heh. The Yankees. On CBS Sports, Andrew Brackman is listed as their fourth starter. I know they’ll fix that with cartoonish sacks that are decorated with dollar signs, but it’s funny to see right now. Actually, there aren’t any pitchers to buy, really. The odds of Jesus Montero staying in the system just went waaaay down, and that makes me giggle some more. There are benefits to Lee signing with the Phillies.

The Phillies have the best rotation in baseball. The Giants probably have the second best. And it can all get futzed up when a waiver claim hits like Hank Aaron throughout October, so there’s no reason for anyone to start getting too arrogant just yet.



That one’s just for you, Phillies fans. Stop being so happy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stare at a wall and wait for March.