Barry Zito’s Contract Revisited

A few things are held true throughout baseball fandom. One of them is Barry Zito’s contract being described as a general manager’s worst nightmare. It’s been a while since someone quantified just how horrendous it is though.

In December 2006, Brian Sabean and the Giants outbid Bill Bavasi and the Mariners in order to land the overrated southpaw billed as an ace. As Nate Silver, amongst others, noted at the time, the deal was perfectly reasonable if you believed Zito could replicate his ERA. Unfortunately for the Giants, Zito’s ERA was a confluence of a spacious ballpark and a bloated amount of stranded baserunners. The contract – or, perhaps, The Contract to Giants fans – held a length of seven years (with a club option) and $126 million (given a $7M buyout for 2014 the contract is actually worth at least $133 million and has the chance to be worth more than $151 million).

To date, the Giants have paid Zito roughly $43M. He has posted FIP of 4.82, 4.72, and 4.31 in innings totals of 196.2, 180, and 192. After park and league adjustments that works out to WAR of 1.7, 1.4, and 2.2 or in dollar terms: $6.9M , $6.4M, and $10M; a sum of $23.3M. Quick subtraction shows the Giants losing about $20 million on the deal so far, and, as mentioned, there are still four years and $90 million left.

The somewhat good news that arrives is Zito had his best season (as told by WAR) since 2005 last year. His fastball went faster, as he used it less than before, and he relied heavily on an upper-70s slider. Maybe he can at least replicate that success heading forward, although it still won’t prevent him from being a punch line.

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10 Responses to “Barry Zito’s Contract Revisited”

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  1. Christian Seehausen says:

    Things do look more promising for Zito down the road. He probably won’t ever be the ace they’re paying for, but his 4.30 FIP came with a BABIP actually above his career average (though probably right around where it should be). All of his components are improved, though his walk rate is still hurting him.

    It will be interesting to see whether he can improve to the point where they at least break even on these latter years of his contract.

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  2. Steve C says:

    He needs to be at least a 6WAR/yr going forward to make his contract of value. Either that the cost of a win needs to increase dramatically.

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  3. B says:

    To break even on just the latter years of his contract, he only needs to be worth ~4WAR or so. Unlikely, but then again his contract is a sunk cost so whatever positive contribution he gives us is good.

    Quick point of note to R.J. – Zito’s $126M figure takes the $7M buyout into account. If you add up how much he’s being paid over the 7 years it’s actually only $119M, so with the buyout it’s $126M with a max value of $137M if they pick up the option (which I think it’s safe to assume they will not). There are some incentive clauses but again, unlikely he reaches any of them and they’re small amounts compared to his contract.

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  4. Christian Seehausen says:

    Yeah, we aren’t talking about breaking even for the entire contract here, just actually becoming worth what he’s paid on a year to year basis.

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  5. walkoffblast says:

    Looks like only 83 million left on that contract (counting the buyout) to me unless I am missing something. Would you rather have that or the 90 million owed to Soriano (and his -3.6 mil earned this year) over the next 5 years?

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  6. I’ve always wondered what Zito’s WAR would look like if one does assume that his BABIP regreeses to the .300 mean that everyone is suppose to regress to. Because he has beaten it soundly in 5 of his 9 full seasons and has been above it only 1 season.

    What most people forget is that DIPS don’t apply to all pitchers, as Tom Tippett showed long ago, and according to Tom Tango, a pitcher’s BABIP is statistically significantly after 6-7 seasons, which Zito is comfortable over now, and his career BABIP is .275 (though above that for his time with the Giants, but still below .300). Therefore Zito is not governed by DIPS. Thus, FIP, which assumes a pitcher conforms to DIPS conventions, is not accurate for pitchers like Zito who are able to keep their BABIP below .300.

    As THT noted,

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    • B says:

      Well, if you assumed his career ERA is where his career FIP should be, and he pitched ~190 innings, you’re basically looking at the productivity of 2006 Matt Cain (using Cain’s FIP). So up to 3.5 WAR or so. So I’m thinking maybe add .5-1 WAR a year onto his actual production.

      Of course, with Zito, there are other factors that affect BABIP. Foul balls (Oakland was very friendly with that – look at his IFFB%, I think that might suggest he benefitted from Oakland’s foul territory quite a bit). Defense – how good has the collective defense behind Zito been over his career?

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  7. Andy says:

    “In December 2006, Brian Sabean and the Giants outbid Bill Bavasi and the Mariners”. This is also known as a Scott Boras wet dream.

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  8. Mark says:

    Though I am no Zito fan, it is worth noting that his performance in 2009 was actually made worse by the ineptness of Bochy’s management. There were numerous instances of Z pitching effectively for 4~6 innings and then being left in the game to get shelled, usually during the third time through an opposing lineup. With a better manager–personally, I suggest Decker from SF’s AA club–Z might have been pulled before giving away so many games; he might have had a better ERA & WHIP, and even a winning record, if he had had a winning manager; Bochy is utterly terrible, and that detrimental influence (not to mention Righetti’s as well) is not apparent in Z’s stats.

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  9. Paul says:

    Just wondering: still feel like that contract was a fair deal? Anyone?

    Leaving him off the postseason roster was the key to the Giants’ World Series title. If he starts even a couple games in the playoffs, they maybe don’t advance to WS.

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