Before the 2012 season, San Francisco Giants fans cringed when they heard Barry Zito’s name.
Now, the former AL Cy Young winner brings fond memories of a season-saving masterpiece, a mind-boggling streak of 15 consecutive wins, the honors of throwing the first World Series pitch and the honors of beating Justin Verlander to jump-start a four-game World Series sweep of the mighty Detroit Tigers.
Barry Zito redeemed himself during the 2012 season after five sub-par years chock full of boos, as he won a remarkable 15 games and propelled the Giants to wins in his last 14 starts of 2012 (he extended that streak to 15 games in his first start of 2013). Zito turned in a huge start with the season on the line in St. Louis, throwing seven and two-thirds scoreless innings and stifling a powerful Cardinal lineup.
Then, Zito took the ball in Game 1 of the World Series, and he had to face the unstoppable Verlander, who went 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA in a down year. Verlander, however, struggled, as Pablo Sandoval hit two home runs off of him and Zito even chipped in with an RBI single.
Oh, and Zito also twirled a nice start, throwing five and two-thirds strong innings and earning the crucial win.
Without Zito, the Giants wouldn’t have won the World Series, and obviously, the World Series is extremely important. Going 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA is never easy, and doing that in the postseason against three prolific offenses is definitely impressive.
Another impressive feat accomplished by Zito is that he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in his last nine starts (including the postseason), which is also incredible. It speaks to how valuable and consistent Zito has been, which is something Giants fans aren’t exactly used to seeing. Zito came out firing again in 2013, keeping the ball away from the heart of the plate (which he has done a great job with), avoiding walks and getting key outs when needed.
The result? Seven brilliant shutout innings and another win.
There’s no doubt Zito has been valuable and there’s no doubt that he helped the Giants win the World Series, as he learned from missing the 2010 postseason roster (because he lost 14 games and was easily the Giants’ worst starting pitcher). However, most people believe that he hasn’t lived up to his contract that most believe Zito never should have received.
Zito was paid $126 million over seven years during the 2006 offseason, and he will be a Giant again in 2014 if he can log 200 innings, or six and two-thirds innings per start for 30 starts. While Zito has proven to be valuable, paying $126 million for any player over any period of time is always a gamble, and it didn’t help that Zito did very little in his first five years with the Giants.
However, the fact remains that even if the Giants had another good pitcher in the rotation instead of Zito, they wouldn’t have won the World Series. In 2007 and 2008, the Giants were awful, as they were well below .500 in both years. In 2009, the Giants were 88-74, but they were still virtually out of playoff contention with a week left in the season.
In 2011, the Giants were eliminated from the NL West race with 11 days left in the season, and they were a few games back of both the Cardinals and the Braves in the Wild Card race. However, the Giants never really had a chance then without star catcher Buster Posey and with the injury bug attacking in so many ways.
Zito still won some games in 2010, and the Giants still came up triumphant then. So, Zito really shouldn't be taking much blame for being left off the 2010 playoff roster, especially after his 2012 success. He never cost the Giants in terms of production, and he helped them win the championship in 2012.
This money is invested in players in hopes of a championship. With Zito, the Giants have won championships in 40 percent of his years. When you consider that there are 30 teams in the MLB, winning the championship 40 percent of the time is impressive (in any period of time).
Zito is also bound to do more in 2013, judging from his 2012 success, positive attitude and first start. He is pitching almost as well as he did when he won the 2002 Cy Young, and he has been absolutely remarkable lately. With Tim Lincecum pitching far from flawlessly, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain coming off of bad starts and Madison Bumgarner fresh off some bad 2012 outings, the Giants need Zito.
San Francisco’s $126 million man has proven that he can step up in big situations and pitch like the guy that won the Cy Young award. Zito’s contract has garnered boatloads of criticism during his tenure in San Francisco, but the bottom line is that Zito is a good pitcher who is finally pitching like one. He tightened the break on his curveball and has improved his location, and that has contributed to his recent success.
And his recent success has made Zito’s contract completely worth it for the Giants.