Remember when a seven-year, $126 million deal seemed pretty crazy? Sure, Jayson Werth’s similar contract (signed prior to the 2011 season) does not exactly seem great (although he is having a nice year) these days, either, but back during the 2006-2007 off-season, when Barry Zito signed with the Giants, it seemed utterly insane. It was not simply that it was, at the time, the biggest contract ever signed by a pitcher. Prices go up — hot dogs cost more now than ever before, and I do not see any moral panic about that phenomenon. It was that Zito seemed like a poor choice for such a deal. Sure, he was a three-time All-Star and the 2004 American League Cy Young winner. He was durable, as he had pitched more than 210 innings six seasons in a row for the As. However, Zito was going to be 29 in 2007, and his strikeout and walk rates, which had never been all that impressive, seemed to be getting worse. It looked like it was going to be an albatross.
It was. Although he has had his moments over the last seven seasons, as a final cherry on top (insert a joke about the 2014 option here), Zito’s 2013 season has been one more blow to the contract year theory of player performance. In the last season of his notorious contract, Zito has had the worst year of his career. He lost his rotation spot in August (although he received another shot in the rotation for a few starts later). Zito’s time with the Giants is drawing to a close, and he is not going to get a ceremonial final start at home, if that was something someone wanted. This is not meant as a career retrospective. Instead, I want to look at something that Zito seemed to have in Oakland, something that probably played a big part in the Giants’ willingness to give him the contract, something which seemed to depart after he made the move: his ability to outperform DIPS metrics.
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