First off, if you look through his game log, sure, there are a lot of games where he is not that good. He has not been that dominating this season, and had a large number of disaster starts. As my study of PQS shows, pitchers high ERA is often the result of a large number of disaster starts and even good pitchers need to minimize their disaster starts (check my labels for PQS for more explanation of this concept) to keep their ERA relatively low.
However, more importantly, you need to look at his gamelog for how many games where he gave up 3 runs or less as the starter, as those are the starts we have the most chance of winning. By that measure, he had 10 starts where he allowed 3 runs or less, so the team should have been 10-8 in his 18 starts. Not worth $18M, but it is still a pretty good record for the 4th starter of the rotation. That the Giants have gone 8-10 in his starts is not entirely his fault: the team is only averaging 3.26 runs scored per game in support of Zito.
The problem is that many people just look at Zito and his salary and then compare him with what top pitchers should be doing. We should not do that because that is not his role on our team, even at his career better seasons, he would not be more than our third or fourth starter, and if Sanchez can consistently pitch well, he could be our fifth starter.
Even when they compare him properly with other #4 starters, the point is not what other team's #4 starters can do, but what our starter options can do.
One complaint was that Zito was "nightmarish" against the 'Dres and Nationals, going 0-4 with a 5.75 ERA. But when you look at those starts, he had two horrible starts, April 10th, 4 runs in 4 IP, and his last, 9 runs in 4.1 IP; one so-so start on May 13th against the Nats, 4 runs in 6.1 IP; and two gems, April 22nd, 0 runs in 7.0 IP, and May 19th, 2 runs in 8.0 IP. I don't think it is Zito's fault that he got a no-decision on one and a loss in the other, of the two gems.
And it all goes to show my common complaint this season about people who are complaining about players: they don't say much while he is doing OK, but jump on the bandwagon when things go south. As late as June 10th, Zito still had a 4.09 ERA, and after his gem on June 7th, his ERA was a respectable 4.43. But he has one bad game and he is jumped upon for his 5.01 ERA, which now does not compare favorably with other #4 starters, but was really good comparatively just a month ago.
Which brings me back to the complaint about his record against the two worst teams, San Diego and Washington. Before that bad last start, he had two good games, one so-so, and one bad game, and he should have been 2-1, maybe 2-2. Really, the complaint is about the 'Dres because only one of the five starts were against Washington, and Zito gave up 4 runs in 6.1 IP, which is not nightmarish, as the Nats are actually an average offensive team.
So let's take a look at the starts, one by one:
- April 10th, 4 ER in 4.0 IP, Overall 9.00 ERA.
- April 22nd, 0 ER in 7.0 IP, Overall 3.27 ERA.
- May 19th, 2 ER in 8.0 IP, Overall 2.84 ERA.
- July 12th, 9 ER in 4.1 IP, Overall 5.79 ERA.
Looking at Zito's stats, he has mainly been in the 4 ERA range, and for #4 starter, that is pretty good. Other team's middle of rotation starters are normally in the 4 ERA range. And as nicely as Sadowski has done so far, I would not walk so far out on a limb and say that Sadowski can deliver that reliably year in year out, which would be the only reason I would be for pushing Zito out of the rotation.
Zito has been much improved overall this season. He is striking out a lot more batters and walking less batters as well. That is because he has been able to regain the effectiveness of the separation in speed between his fastball and his curveball by gaining a key 2-3 MPH on his fastball. Maybe he is not worth his contract, but for what he does as a pitcher, he fits in nicely with our rotation this season where he was, as the #4 starter. That is all that really matters, how he fits on our team.
This might be different next year, when Bumgarner and maybe Alderson will be ready for the majors, but for now, he is fine where he is and is a useful contributor to the team's success. And if he can continue his past pattern of pitching well in the second half, his overall ERA for 2009 will look very nice, and if he can continue it into 2010, then he could be tradeable as soon as mid-year 2010.
I was listening to KNBR while driving and someone was passionately dissing Giants management, saying that they don't want to win it all, that he didn't have any confidence that Giants management will keep the nucleus of the team together, so why not trade off some of their four Top 50 prospects and get Halladay now, to win it this year.
This was so wrong in so many ways that I had to respond.
First, Sabean was the one who kept the nucleus of this team, the one we have right now, together. He could have traded off any or many of them previously in order to help Bonds win the World Series once during his career. But he didn't, for the most part.
If they didn't want to win it all, they wouldn't have bothered to spend $6.1M on Posey last year, they could have gotten away with drafting someone else and paying at least half as much. They wouldn't have bothered to spend over $4M together to sign Villalona and Rodriguez. They wouldn't have bothered to go over slot to sign Lincecum. Or Bumgarner.
And trading away our Top 50 prospects today would kill our next few seasons, particularly if Posey was traded away. He's our future catcher. If he's traded, then Sandoval's our catcher, but now we have no 3B. In addition, playing catcher would definitely take away from his offense, both because he won't be playing as many games as he would at 3B, plus there is a physical toll as well. Our rotation is good now, but with Bumgarner and Alderson (plus Sanchez), it could be marvelous.
In addition, most of our high salary contracts will be gone by the time Lincecum is arbitration eligible and really pulling in the money. We will have a lot of budget to pay him. I expect a long term contract but even if not, we will still be signing him to less than market value out to 2013. And we have Cain signed to a cheap contract to 2011. Both things he didn't know but still he felt he knew much more how to better run the Giants.
Halladay is good but Bumgarner could be as good as he is for the next 6 seasons, plus Posey will be a middle of lineup hitter for us as well. But he would rather mortgage our future to try to win this year. I think that's idiotic, particularly since another team could get red hot (like Colorado did after Tracy took over) and pass us up like nothing. Then we would have mortgaged the future but don't even get the present.
Be patient, look like you've supported a winning team before, and enjoy the next 6-8 seasons as our young players rise and add to the mix. It looks like it's going to be good.