Barry Zito: The $126-Million Man

Thomas BarbeeSenior Analyst IJuly 2, 2008

 Hindsight is a funny thing, especially when it seems like you're one of the few people that know better.

For example, as a child of the '80s, I vaguely remember enough from that time to know that it's not really worth repeating.

Yet, here we are, 20 years later, reinventing the wheel as it were—for a brief time, Members Only jackets made an ill-fated comeback. People also started going back to wearing matching Adidas track outfits (Run DMC), and if you're observant, you'll notice a decided increase in '80s-themed parties.

It's tacky, but all the kids are doing it. And it's only afterwards that people say, "What the hell was I thinking?"

General managers work in similar fashion, especially in baseball. Of course, they say they want to win, but in reality, they also want to look like geniuses. Why settle for being the kid with the Rubik's cube when you can have a De Lorean?

Apparently this was Giants' GM Brian Sabean's philosophy, as he threw caution (and history) into the wind and signed Barry Zito to the richest contract ever for a pitcher.

A former Cy Young winner with the A's, Zito could possible be a 20-game loser this season. All of the guitar playing in the world can't help you escape that.

But while his guitar gently weeps, Zito also has brought out a similar response from the front office and fans.

There are those who can breathe a bit easier. A few happy campers by the names of Darren Dreifort, Chan Ho Park, and Mark Hampton can all relax, as Zito is currently on course to be a bigger bust than any of the three.

So what happened, exactly?

Well, truth be told, Zito's numbers had been fading prior to the Giants signing him.

Despite making it to the All-Star Game in his final year with the A's, Zito's numbers were hardly money, as Ricky Slade would put it. Zito came just one walk shy of 100 walks on the year and had a WHIP of 1.40, two-tenths higher than what it was just the year before.

Despite that, Zito had pitched well over 200 innings each season in Oakland, but the walk numbers were constantly on the rise.

Fast-forward to this year, and the $126-million ace has this to show:

3-12 W-L, 5.99 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, .311 BAA, and a K/BB ratio under one! Yikes!

It's well established that Zito's bread-and-butter pitch is a borderline-cartoonish curveball that swoops through the strike zone (and even if it misses, you can't really tell). But once you get to his other pitches, his stuff is average at best.

With his control shakier than ever, his curveball rarely crosses the plate, and if it does, it's a bit flatter than it has been in previous years. That forces him to rely on a batting-practice fastball that seems to be even slower this year than last, a gimpy slider, and a passable changeup.

With hitters seemingly locked in to both his fastball and changeup (thanks in large part to his arm action tipping off the hitters), Zito's been in trouble virtually his whole Giants career. Unless Zito turns it around, he'll be on track to be the first 20-game loser since former Detroit Tiger Mike Maroth did it in 2003.

Just for the sake of comparison, Maroth earned $309,000 that year.

It's too bad the San Francisco Giants can't get a refund. On the bright side, Sabean still has his Cabbage Patch kid to play with.