FIRE JOE MORGAN: Barry Zito: Not That Good But Not That Bad, Either


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Thursday, December 28, 2006


Barry Zito: Not That Good But Not That Bad, Either

Look, Barry Zito probably isn't worth $18 million dollars a year for seven years. He walks a lot of guys. His WHIP last year was 1.40. He probably benefitted from a good outfield defense behind him in Oakland. His numbers against the better offensive teams are less than stellar.

But according to Keith Law on Colin Cowherd's radio show today, Barry Zito is "a third, maybe a fourth starter." What?

I don't really even like calling pitchers ones, twos, threes, sixes, or twelves. Pitchers are pitchers -- they give you a certain value and that's that. Putting them into absolute, defined, discrete categories speaks to a level of confidence about what their performance will be that we often don't have. Obviously, I really hate it when guys loudly proclaim "Pitcher X is not an ace, okay? He's not an ace." What the fuck does that even mean? (It means "I like to scream meaningless things and act indignant if anyone disagrees with my totally made-up bullshit.")

I understand that there are reasons to do it. It gives a rough idea of what to expect from a guy, it relates to their spot in the rotation, it sounds like baseball talk, whatever.

Back to Zito. Law, who's normally pretty reasonable on non-Gil Meche issues, is down on the guy. I want to be down on him too. His peripherals are bad. But let's be fair: even the new, bad Barry Zito of the past three years is a steady high 3 or at worst, low 4 ERA guy. For 35 starts a year. Last year his ERA was 3.83. You know what that was good for? Tenth in the AL. Twenty-third in baseball.

So I ask you, Keith Law, on what crazy awesome team is Barry Zito a goddamn number four?

There were, going by last year's stats, only three teams on which you or Keith Law could call Barry Zito a number three (by ERA alone): the Padres, the Yankees, and the Angels. There were zero teams on which he would have been a number four. From a quick look (I could be off by a couple here), there were nine teams on which Barry Zito would have been your number one, including the team he pitched for, Oakland.

Well, you say, Oakland must have been a terrible baseball squadron, then! They were seventh in ERA and they did okay in the playoffs. Speaks to depth, bullpen, lots of things -- but clearly having a number three (or a number four, depending on which Keith Law opinion you subscribe to) as their number one didn't totally wreck them.

At a certain point, being contrarian, as Law often is (and as FJM often is), can sometimes lead you into being just as wrong as the idiots you're showing up. Zito is overrated by a lot of dumb people ("he's a Cy Young winner!"), and Law sees that. But now he's overcompensating.

Point is: dude, Barry Zito is not a number three. Factoring in his durability, he's a solid number two, and in a pinch, he could even be your number one and you still might have a decent team.

He's not worth $126 million, though.

** INSERT **

Thank you, Jeff Sackmann of the Hardball Times for hive-minding with me and publishing a very relevant article yesterday that I hadn't read until reader Tim alerted me to it. Jeff ran the numbers, and this is what he found:

To start with, here are the averages for each rotation position:




Sorry that's so ugly. Jeff had it in a neat table. Go read his whole article. If you buy Jeff's procedure, then according to these results, Barry Zito was a #1/#2 starter in the AL. Who was "a third, maybe a fourth starter"? I don't know, Kris Benson (ERA of 4.82)? And he had a bad year even for Kris Benson. Barry Zito is not Kris Benson.

Jeff also states more clearly what I should have said about all of this kind of talk in the first place:

Of course, this usage is extremely imprecise: one man's #2 is another man's #4, and there's no clear way to settle the debate. Taken literally, a pitcher's position in the rotation depends entirely on context: Zach Miner, the fifth-best starter on last year's Tigers, had a lower ERA than any regular starter for the Royals.

And second:

My biggest beef with this kind of talk is that it invariably overestimates just how good pitchers should be.

Thanks, Jeff.


Ed. note: Colin Cowherd was not doing his own show today, or else he would have said something that certainly would have been fodder for a much more entertaining post. Something like this:

Fictional Colin Cowherd (in a nasal, contemptuous sneer): You know what bothers me about this signing? What has Barry Zito ever done on the big stage? What tells me he's a big-game pitcher? Do something in October, then come to me for the big bucks. Cy Young Award? That's a regular-season thing. Do you ever remember Barry Zito coming through with two out and two on in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7? No! That's why he doesn't deserve 18 million a year. We'll be right back with Tony Romo. You're in the herd!

Fuck off and die, Fictional Colin Cowherd.

Second Ed. note: I just remembered that the guy filling in for Colin Cowherd did say something Cowherd-level dumb. I'm not going to take five seconds to go back and listen to the thing, so I'll just pretend I transcribed it. Here's the gist of it:

Guy Filling In For Colin Cowherd: Keith, I've always looked at Barry Zito and looked at a lot of the A's pitchers and wondered why there weren't more signature moments.

Signature moments? Signature moments? We're talking about $126 million. Do you know how low on the list "signature moments" is when a rational person decides how to make a $126 million investment? Answer: it's not even on the fucking list. Fuck off and die, Guy Filling In For Colin Cowherd.

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posted by Junior  # 4:37 PM
Too much swearing, I think.
Reasons why I might be wrong:

1. Zito also benefitted from Oakland's large amount of foul territory.

2. "Analysis" relied solely on ERA, which is highly imperfect.

3. In particular, Zito's 2006 ERA may reflect an unexpectedly high number of stranded runners.

I still think he'll be pretty dece and that calling him a third or fourth starter is hyperbole.
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