- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

The Paid Man’s Burden

Because Craig Calcaterra is a smart guy, he’s written a lot of smart things over time. Yesterday he wrote something glaringly smart about Barry Zito at Hardball Talk:

But there’s every reason to think that he can be a useful part of the Giants rotation for the next several years. He’s durable, reliable and if last year is any indication, he’s showing that he can learn to pitch without his young man stuff. Indeed, he even flashed some genuine brilliance in a couple of starts against the Rockies late in the season. Plus, seeing he’s lefthanded, there’s every reason to think that Zito could chug along for many, many more years and wind up with well north of 200 wins.

That doesn’t make him an ace or anything, but the mere fact that Brian Sabean decided to grossly over pay him doesn’t render him a punchline.

Calcaterra is right. Zito will never be worth the contract or the hype. He did actually pitch decently last season too, posting a xFIP of 4.46 which is an improvement over his previous seasons of 5.34 and 4.98 pitching. Calcaterra is also right about the unfair criticisms Zito has received due to his personality. The very same surfer dude persona that was treated like the antidote to pressure is now the poison.

This isn’t really about Zito, though, even if he does play the role of Mister Misunderstood convincingly. The truth is that any time a player signs a big deal he’s opening himself up to unfair criticism. As if Zito should have known better than the people paid to make the baseball personnel decisions and told Brian Sabean, “No sir, I’m not worth this contract. Halve it, then I’ll sign.” Beyond the money, players really can find burdens placed upon their shoulders by outside influences at a startling rate.

The media turned David Eckstein from a short dude who can ball into a 152 centimeter messiah with a heart made of titanium baseballs that pumps pine tar and Gatorade. Carlos Silva might be fat, but nobody found his spare tire damning until he began receiving paychecks that grossly overestimated his worth. Yuniesky Betancourt is really bad at baseball, but any player who asks for his removal from the lineup is begging to be taken out of the game in an entirely different manner.

And on it goes. Being a player has its own set of perks. Achieving what so many dream about and so few accomplish must be exhilarating. Sometimes clouds do creep into sunny spring days, though, and this seems to happen for players more than anyone else in the game. Managers, umpires, and front office personnel get theirs too, but the players are the main attraction and praise, like criticism, finds them as easy receptacles. That’s life and it won’t change.

One thought in conclusion: Should we really mock players for making prudent financial decisions when we praise management for doing the same?