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Gitz asked me whether I thought Barry Zito, following his down year in 2004, was a good candidate for the "buy low, sell high" theory of player acquisition.

First, let me say that there could be two reasons to definitely stay away from Blithe Barry. If flakes tend to have shorter careers, then you'd want to avoid him. Luckily, I've never seen any evidence that the more free-spirited player tends to have a shorter career.

Likewise, if his arm was chancy you'd obviously want none of him. I don't have any insight into Zito's health - that's clearly an important issue for a guy who's been worked fairly hard. Of course, he's got the kind of body that people think can handle a heavy workload (if you believe in that sort of thing). Problem is he's a curveballer, and even though he throws more fastballs than curveballers of the past he may be a longterm arm health risk. PECOTA, not that it takes pitch types into account, thinks Zito is a fairly good bet to escape injury based solely on the information it uses, as it projects Zito to make 30 starts this year, a high number (since PECOTA projections are made by averaging over every possible eventuality, including injuries, players with high starts are considered by the system to be more resistant to missing time due to all factors, including injuries).

The most important aspect of whether Zito would be a good acquisition or not, though, is performance. As far as those aspects go, it's true that Zito was less effective last year than in 2001-03 but the degree was exaggerated - primarily because baseball writers tend to base their judgment of a pitcher's effectiveness based on his win totals, and Zito was just 4-7 at the all-star break, so we got an extensive round of "What's Wrong With Barry Zito" stories that colored our perceptions of him. Zito and his teammate Mark Mulder had seasons that were basically identical, but because Mulder won 17 games no one is suggesting his imminent collapse.

I only watched Zito pitch twice last year - a bit of his start against Toronto where he was brilliant, and a game late in the year against the Mariners that was on Diamond Surfing. He looked the same pitcher to me, so I have no insights there. Those reports I have seen on Zito that talk about the '04 downturn tend to question his pitch location early in the count. Maybe - but his walk rates were not up, and his pitches per plate appearance barely moved.

Zito's ISO against - especially his home runs allowed - did go up some, even though his G/F ratio didn't. That would most likely be the result of leaving a few extra pitches up, which in itself is not a harbinger of a longterm decline. His K rate went up, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio went up, so why was he giving up over a run more per game?

Batting average. Zito's BAA went from .218 in '02 and .219 in '03 to .263 in '04. And that was with a supposedly much-improved defense behind him. Given his pitch numbers, walks, and strikeouts, I'm quite pleased (thanks to all that wonderful DIPS research) to call 80% or more of that just plain bad luck, and I'm betting Zito's BAA will be closer to .220 than .260 this year.

Generally, I have a very hard time believing anyone who says Zito's declined since his Cy Young year, because I can't square that with the tremendous pitcher I saw (we all saw) in the Division Series against the Red Sox in '03. But that's besides the point. I think the numbers give the cue - Zito should be fine. PECOTA expects him to pitch like a #1 starter this season - he's in the Top 30 in expected VORP.
From Zito to Zero to Hero? | 35 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
_Mick - Wednesday, February 02 2005 @ 11:02 PM EST (#856) #
I personally don't believe that with Huddy in Atlanta and Mulder in St. Loo that even The Great Beane would dare trade all three of The Former Big Three. I know, if Ricciardi blew his socks off and offered him Bush and O-Dog for Zito, he'd have to think hard about it. But the PR hit he'd take, even a man of his self-confidence and self-assuredness would have to think ... well, thrice.
Gerry - Wednesday, February 02 2005 @ 11:30 PM EST (#857) #
Zito's K rate went up, so the change in BAA was even more pronounced. I have not figured BABIP, its too late at night, but the jump would be significant. DIPS tells us this is bad luck. On the other hand the HR jump was significant, and per DIPS this is something within Zito's control, and an area of concern.

Your analysis suggests that BAA was bad luck, but that HRA was not a harbinger of long term decline. Someone else could look at the same information and suggest that the HRA does suggest that Zito is in decline.

I don;t have an opinion, not having seen him pitch much but I think the interpretation could go either way.
_greenfrog - Wednesday, February 02 2005 @ 11:32 PM EST (#858) #
I think whichever team trades for Zito is going to pay a premium. Basically, there are no more first-rate FA starters available, and there aren't too many on the trade market. My guess is there will be plenty of bidders later this summer, and that Beane will hold onto Zito for a while. If Oakland looks like a contender, he can keep him. If not, he can trade him for more young talent at the deadline. Unlike Lilly, who was superfluous when Oakland had a stacked rotation with Harden stepping into the back of the rotation, prying Zito away will require some serious talent in return.

Wouldn't it make more sense to have Hudson and Bush in their prime (at a relative discount) over the next few years? We can always look for a top-flight starter next year, either through the FA or trade market. I think we're about two years ahead of the point at which we acquire someone like Zito. He's more of a final-piece-of-the-puzzle guy, at least based on his projected salary over the next couple of years.

My 2c.
_Mick - Wednesday, February 02 2005 @ 11:42 PM EST (#859) #
greenfrog, don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting JPR would offer Hudson and Bush for Zito. And certainly not that he should do that. Heavens no. I put that together in my head as the kind of deal Beane would have to listen to, but I don't think Ricciardi would EVER make the offer.
_Ron - Wednesday, February 02 2005 @ 11:51 PM EST (#860) #
I saw Zito pitch a few times last season and he looked fine to me. I'm sure most Jay fans remember his dual with Bush last summer.

If Beane was going to deal Zito he's better off trading him in the off-season. Basically get as many teams possible to bid on his services (not just the usual contenders at the trade deadline). I would think Beane would try to sign him long term considering he just traded away Mulder and Hudson. Either way I suspect it would take a lot of young, cost-effective blue chip talent to land Zito in a trade.
_Ryan B. - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 12:05 AM EST (#861) #
Would you really want to package either Bush or O-Dog for Zito? I wouldn't, not for one second. I figured that J.P would offer up a combo of prospects and some cash for Zito, a couple of arms and a bat or two. Maybe Cat will find himself in the offer, especially now that Hatteberg has slipped and Durazo could move from DH to 1B. Maybe not even that, since Charles Thomas is starting in left field for them. Say Cat, Gross, Rosario and some cash to cover part of Cat's salary for Zito.

With all of that said I'd much, much rather see Ben Sheets in a Jayís uniform. I was listening to MLB radio today and they were going on about how awesome a Halladay/Sheets combo would be. With Lilly in the 3rd spot I think the Yankees and Sox would have a little trouble with that.

Itís funny how a payroll hike makes us forget how disappointing this off-season was. I guess with the announcement yesterday it wasn't so disappointing after all.
_R Billie - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 12:05 AM EST (#862) #
I would like to see more data including line drives before deciding for sure that Zito is ready to make a complete comeback. The big thing that raises my concerns more than the average or homeruns is the increased pitches per inning. He was over 17 in 2004 while being consistently about 16 the previous three years. Pitch efficiency is a pretty big deal to me as more pitches equal quicker fatigue, more chances for the batter to see the stuff, and more chances to make mistakes.

It's not a huge difference in pitch efficiency but the ESPN scouting report says that Zito had problems with his curveball control which probably explains a lot given that is his out pitch. His fastball seldom surpasses 90. So if he can't put the curve where he needs to he'll have problems. It's interesting to note he added a sinker in the second half which helped him.

I do think he overachieved in his Cy Young season and underachieved this season. What he has been able to do though is provide innings and a lot of them, usually at a well above average rate and that's enough to be a number one on most teams.

I think comparing Zito to Lilly is interesting. When Lilly is using all of his pitches and putting them where he wants, the curveball especially, he's can be dominant. Zito of course has a bigger body and has thrown a lot more innings in his career and appears to be more consistent but he's not a more efficient pitcher than Lilly going by the numbers which is a bit surprising. In fact he's much less efficient than Hudson and Mulder were which probably has a lot to do with his reliance on the dominant curveball.

This is the one reason I would still look at Zito with some skepticism, at least as an ace level pitcher. If he can pick up his earlier years' command with the hook then he'll probably be fine.
Craig B - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 12:07 AM EST (#863) #
League-average LD% is 13%, which is where Zito was. LD% is influenced somewhat by the home-park scorer. Among comparable players, Hudson was also at 13% and Mulder at 14%.
_Ron - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 12:08 AM EST (#864) #
I got my games mixed up. The pitcher duel with Zito was Batista. And the Bush duel was actually with Harden.
Craig B - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 12:17 AM EST (#865) #
Bush-Harden was certainly a classic, though, Ron!
_sweat - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 12:29 AM EST (#866) #
Craig, i feel dirty for some reason, like that time i was watching fight club.
_Tassle - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 02:57 AM EST (#867) #
Craig, i feel dirty for some reason, like that time i was watching fight club.

I am Jack's feeling of complete astonishment. Is that a Fight Club hater I see? Harsh, sweat, real harsh..
_Magpie - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 03:40 AM EST (#868) #
I think if Zito had had the same run support as Mulder had last year no one would be too worried about him. As I said (way too many times!) when Oakland made their trades, Zito was the guy I would have kept: he's younger than Mulder or Hudson, and he strikes out more hitters than either of them as well. And that's about the best indication of future effectiveness that I kow of.

I think if Zito had had the same run support as Mulder had last year no one would be too worried about him.

Oakland scored 198 runs in Mulder's 33 starts (6.0 per game); they scored just 150 runs in Zito's 34 starts (4.4 per game). Nine times, they scored 2 runs or less for Zito (he went 1-6 in those games.) Four times, Oakland scored 2 runs or less for Mulder (he went 1-3.)

In his first start of the year, Zito gave up two runs over 8 IPT and took the loss. On May 28, he pitched 8 shutout innings against Cleveland for a ND. He gave up a single run in 8 IPT against the Jays in the start after that. Another ND.

But because of the W-L records, both Mulder and Hudson looked much more attractive this winter than Zito. Beane would rather sell high than sell low.
_josh - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 08:09 AM EST (#869) #
While Home Runs allowed is not as good an indicator of future home runs allowed as gb/fb, Zito seemed in his best seasons to have a low home run rate despite being a fly ball pitcher. In addition, he had had one of the best h/bip rates in the games. Perhaps, it isn't jus that he got unlucky last yearr, but also that he had been lucky in previous years. His true ability level is probably somewhere in between. Having said that, I don't Zito is a much different pitcher from his Cy Young season.
_Jim - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 08:15 AM EST (#870) #
The fact that he's the one of the three that Beane held onto is good enough for me. I doubt he's available, but if he were I'd grab him for the right price.
Pistol - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 08:45 AM EST (#871) #
http://www.athleticsnation.com/story/2005/1/25/233348/110
There was an interview with Beane over at Athletics Nation a couple weeks back. I never got the impression that Beane was looking to trade Zito - actually just the opposite, that he was looking to hold onto him.

The interview is pretty interesting (and lengthy). COMN.

At the end of the interview he said his worst move was he and JP deciding as Assitant GMs to take Prieto over Helton.
Mike Green - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 09:28 AM EST (#872) #
Oakland was a marginal hitter's park last year; it is a pitcher's park most years due to the large foul territory. Zito did give up 16 of his homers at home, so I would not read too much into the modest increase in his HR rate last year.

Actually, last year was not such a bad one for Zito. His K/IP rate had dropped alarmingly in 2003, and rebounded nicely in 2004. I expect Rich Harden to be the best pitcher on the A's this year, but Zito will make an excellent #2. I have him marked down for 19-11, 3.75 ERA.
_Matthew E - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 09:34 AM EST (#873) #
By the way, if this is the thread we're using for the roundup and QOTD and what have you, I'd like to point out that today's the 46th anniversary of the Day the Music Died.
_Matthew E - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 09:49 AM EST (#874) #
I see it is not. I will repost.
Gitz - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 12:33 PM EST (#876) #
I was wondering if you were ignoring me, Craig. *sniff* (I appreciate the longer response.)

I caught about 20 of Zito's starts last year (well, OK, so I didn't catch them), about the same number as I did in 2003, and the biggest problem he had was the same one he had that year: he couldn't put hitters away. I know his K rate went up last year, but, really, it was a major struggle. Other than a diminished K rate, Zito's peripherals were nearly identical in 2002 and 2003. Last year he gave up more hits, and I can attest that they weren't all rockets up the alleys; a lot were dinks and dunks, seemingly more than normal, but that is just anectodal. A few of Zito's losses, the ones that the writers and announcers remember, were because he gave up a late home run, usually on a bad curve ball or change up, after his pitch count had exceeded 110. This seemed to exacerbate the perception that he was having a "bad" year." On a pure scouting level, it seems that Zito has fallen in love with the curve ball, using it to spot his fastball, instead of the other way around. That's the biggest change I've noticed since his 2002 season. Because, as people have mentioned, essentially he is the same pitcher he's always been: average fastball, good bender, nice change-up.

This year? I could see it both ways: He reverts closer to his 2002/2003 form, gives up fewer hits, and puts up a 3.40 ERA with similar K/BB rates; or it could be a good start/bad start year, when he can't strike anybody out and leaves in the sixth inning because his pitch count has reached 110. In many ways, Zito is emblematic of the 2005 A's: anything is possible.
_Mick - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 12:53 PM EST (#877) #
In many ways, Zito is emblematic of the 2005 A's: anything is possible.

Which is what we've been saying about the Braves for, like, nine years. IMNSHO, the A's are the Braves of the A.L. -- I expect them to make the playoffs until they don't, which in Atlanta's case for me was more than a decade, two fiancees and a wife (which I still have, thank goodness) ago.
_James T - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 01:17 PM EST (#878) #
Craig B has it. Curveball control. I saw Zito pitch against the Red Sox in Fenway on May 25 and they beat his brains out by simply watching his curves go for balls and then whacking his fastball and change. It looked like they had completely solved him. Maybe it was a fluke but they apparently weren't the only ones who took that approach with him.
_Eric - Thursday, February 03 2005 @ 03:09 PM EST (#880) #
Not sure if this was just hometown complaining, but A's broadcasters and coaches oftened complained that umpires who were unfamiliar with Zito's sharp curveball reflexively would call it a ball regardless of its location. Don't know enough about umpires, strikes and balls to judge whether this is true, but it is an interesting theory.

Sounds a lot like like hometown whining to me. The umpires suddenly forgot how to call his curveball after four years?
Craig B - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 12:20 AM EST (#881) #
Eric, that referred to mupires who were unfamiliar with Zito. You could make a case for that, but every pitcher faces the same problem with his curveball to some degree.
_Mick - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 12:33 AM EST (#882) #
mupires

This forces me to picture a large, furry Muppet in umpire gear. How could any announcer be mad at THAT?
_jakarta - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 04:16 AM EST (#883) #
I agree with gitz almost completely, from watching a ton of Zito games the last few years, the 2004 version of Zito seemed to be unlucky and suffered from too many home runs surrendered after 110 pitches.

I also noticed that the calls on the curve balls seemed to rattle Barry in a few games. The Boston game was indeed awful, though they have done that to huddy and clemens and many others over the last three years.

Barry's dad alluded to some personal problems that occured last year and that he expects Barry to thrive this year... for whatever that is worth.

But mostly it seemed that in May and June and a little in July, Barry struggled to get through his final inning. The last two months he seemed much more normal. And for a period it sure seemed like he was tipping his fastball, because it seemed every fat fastball was hit for extra bases.

Zito was real lucky in 2002, seemed to get average luck in 2003, and was snakebit in 2004.

Armchair fandom, take with a shaker of salt
_Four Seamer - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 08:23 AM EST (#884) #
Isn't Zito dating Alyssa Milano? Sounds to me like his luck is returning...
_Mick - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 09:56 AM EST (#885) #
I think the real question for a carefree guy like Zito, is he's always been One of The Big Three. And now he's The Guy. Even if he's not the best pitcher on the team, and he may not be, he's The Big Name. Can he handle that?

Nobody knows until it's thrust upon them. I don't think he'll go all Emmitt Smith post-Triplets "I'm surrounded by garbage and that's hard for me to deal with" on the A's, but this is as much a change for him as it is for Mulder and Hudson.
Craig B - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 10:11 AM EST (#886) #
Zito was real lucky in 2002, seemed to get average luck in 2003, and was snakebit in 2004.

Armchair fandom, take with a shaker of salt


I don't know about a shaker - that analysis seems right on to me.
_Eric - Friday, February 04 2005 @ 11:54 AM EST (#887) #
Eric, that referred to mupires who were unfamiliar with Zito. You could make a case for that, but every pitcher faces the same problem with his curveball to some degree.

Was there a particularly large influx of new umpires last year that would put it so at odds with his previous seasons, though?

I certainly understand that certain umpires struggle with recognition of certain pitches/pitchers, but that would have to be taken to a pretty unreasonable extreme here.

Maybe there was one new umpire who was absolutely horrible at calling his curve, but anything beyond that just strikes me as reaching.

When talking about his shaky mental condition, however, I could see blown calls that have always existed having a more detrimental effect on his game last year.
_Ken Arneson - Saturday, February 05 2005 @ 12:02 AM EST (#888) #
Zito is probably far less an injury risk than most pitchers. He's never missed a start. I've heard people from the A's organization joke that Zito doesn't even know where the trainers room is. The only physical ailment I know of is that his left knee has gotten sore from time to time.

The best explanation I heard about Zito's struggles early in the year was that he was throwing his changeup too softly: about 68mph, which is about the same speed as his curveball. That made it easier for batters to time both the changeup and curveball.

Later, he got his changeups back to around 73mph, and he started to look like the old Zito.

Zito only has the three pitches, so if one of them is off, he has trouble getting through the lineup more than twice. If two of them areoff--well, his 88mph heater isn't going to fool anybody.
_DavidS - Wednesday, February 09 2005 @ 08:32 PM EST (#889) #
>>A few of Zito's losses, the ones that the writers and announcers remember, were because he gave up a late home run, usually on a bad curve ball or change up, after his pitch count had exceeded 110.

I watched Zito a lot last year, and I can vouch for this. He'd be cruising along, throwing the curveball for strikes, and then bam he'd give up a key homerun.

I don't think he had any problem with the curveball last year; I think he had trouble spotting his fastball. I think he was throwing a cutter towards the end of the season which helped a lot. Also, I do think he was tipping his fastball somehow, because that's where he was getting hammered.

Zito has never missed a start. That was definitely a factor in Beane's decision - particularly after Mulder has broken down regularly, and the incredible torque Hudson puts on his body repeatedly caused hip problems. Barry's not a flake - he pitched well in numerous high pressure games from very early in his pro career.
Craig B - Wednesday, February 09 2005 @ 09:37 PM EST (#890) #
I do think he was tipping his fastball somehow, because that's where he was getting hammered.

If he had trouble keeping the curveball over as he went deep into games, opposing hitters would probably just key on the fastball on even counts. This alone could lead to big hits, even if the fastball wasn't tipped it may as well have been - since all you do with a tipped pitch is sit on it!

Barry's not a flake - he pitched well in numerous high pressure games from very early in his pro career

Well, he's still a flake - he just doesn't bring it out onto the field. Most flaky guys are the same way to my recollection.

The best explanation I heard about Zito's struggles early in the year was that he was throwing his changeup too softly: about 68mph, which is about the same speed as his curveball. That made it easier for batters to time both the changeup and curveball.

Later, he got his changeups back to around 73mph, and he started to look like the old Zito.


A slow change alone wouldn't do it, but if the slower change made it harder to disguise (which in most cases it would) then there may be something to that.
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