While most people remain fixated on the principle players of the deal that saw the San Francisco Giants trade left-hander Jonathan Sanchez to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Melky Cabrera, seemingly lost in the shuffle was the news that Giants manager Bruce Bochy announced, shortly thereafter, that Barry Zito will be the team’s No. 5 starter in 2012. “I’m not gonna hide from it,” Bochy said. “Barry Zito is our 5th starter next year.“ Sounds pretty official, huh? There had been talk of a possible competition with Eric Surkamp, but Bochy quickly squashed any speculation and has apparently set his team’s rotation. Any available free agent pitchers can cross the Giants off their wish list. So now the question comes to us fantasy owners — is Zito even worth a look this season or is it a safer play to just bypass him altogether?
Let’s face it, Zito has been a veritable train wreck since he came across the Bay to San Francisco. It still boggles the mind that the Giants ponied up $126M for 7 years to a guy who was already losing velocity on his fastball, was losing break on his curve, and saw his ERA stabilize up in the 3.80+ range with an FIP about a full point higher during his final two years in Oakland, but alas, that’s what happened. Ask any Giants fan and he/she will tell you it was the worst mistake in the history of baseball. But fantasy-wise, there still might be a little something worthwhile left, especially considering how little he should cost this year.
Given last season’s atrocity, a soon-to-be 34 year old Zito would probably cost no more than a dollar in auctions and could easily be had with your final pick in a draft of 25 rounds. And in actuality, he’ll probably still be sitting on the waiver wire in most leagues even after drafts are complete. It may be a little different for really deep NL-only leagues, but still, there are very few people that would be willing to take a chance on him. That being said, if he can even just return to the form we saw in 2009 and 2010, he would give you a positive return value. A guy who tosses nearly 200 innings, has a K/9 that sits between 6.5 and 7.0, a low 4.00-range ERA, and 10 wins for a buck is a solid back end of your rotation kind of guy. Even Zito’s peripherals looked good then with a solid walk rate, LOB%, and an FIP that was fairly close to his ERA totals. The numbers certainly aren’t gaudy but if those are the totals coming from your fifth or sixth starting pitcher, then you’re probably doing ok.
The pitcher you saw last year is not really a fair representation of Zito. He took a comebacker to the mound in mid-April that hit his right foot, his plant foot, and he never quite recovered from the damage done. He made it back briefly in mid-June, but between the Giants trying to now juggle six starters and the right foot still seemingly causing issues, Zito had his difficulties. When his right ankle gave out on him during a play in the field in mid-August, he was done — put on the shelf indefinitely. Take away that injury and perhaps Zito pitches with the consistency he had in the previous two years.
Maybe Giants fans don’t agree with Bochy’s decision to officially announce Zito as the fifth starter here in November, but perhaps with a little job security and without the constant questions regarding Zito’s status in the rotation and how much money is still owed to him, the guy can just go out and pitch again. I’d buy that for a dollar!