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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.