Saturday, May 19, 2012

Like it or not, Barry Zito is making strides

Barry Zito.
The name alone evokes a plethora of emotions for baseballfans on both sides of the San Francisco Bay. If there is a more polarizing figure in Bay Area sports recently (notalso named Barry), they are certainly slipping my mind now.  He seems indifferent.  He’s been inconsistent.  At times, the man has been completelyintolerable.  And yet I have to admit – I’vebecome one of Zito’s biggest fans.
I definitely won’t deny the selfishness behind my rootinginterest.  Just over three months ago Iventured out on the flimsiest of limbs to suggest that Zitohad a comeback left in him, a hypothesis that was met by more snickeringthan a stuttering student in a 4th grade grammar class. 
Was my prediction bold? Definitely.  Was it probable?  No. Wasit written to score pageviews?  CERTAINLY not.
And yet, in the way that I detailed the possible comeback,it seems to be coming to fruition. Perhaps that’s why every time Zito takes the mound, I watch with atwinkle in my eye.  For starters, thedead space where KNBR-Zito-rippers used to exist has been pleasant (when it’snot being replaced by the “middle infielders who can’t hit” banter, that is).  Secondly, I want to be right when I make aproclamation; after all, I have to make up for botchingmy predictions on the 49ers and Randy Moss. And obviously, watching a goat turn into a hometown hero of sorts isalways a fun exercise.
Let’s be clear
My piece was more of a shot at the sensitive nature of BayArea sports fans than it was a vote of confidence in Zito.  I watched with pleasure while Jim Harbaughtransformed Alex from a beaten puppy dog to somehow-someway winner.  Alex didn’t transform into Drew Brees, but hecertainly won over the hearts of 49ers fans in a hurry.
They say that winning cures all; it seems to mask a lottoo.  Forget the fact that Alex Smithwasn’t going “Bombs over Baghdad” every Sunday – he was winning games withmodest statistics all season long.  Thekey word is winning – that’s all it took to get the fans on his side.  He didn’t shock the world with gaudy numbers,but he got the job done.
The same can be said for Zito.  He’s far from making a case for a Cy YoungAward or an All Star bid, but in the hearts and minds of Giants fans, he’s madea hell of a comeback.  Zito started inonly 9 games in 2011 (although he pitched in 13), and through 8 starts thisseason he has shown notable improvement:


Okay, so we all know how meaningless W/L records are, butsome of the other statistical differences are hard to ignore.  Zito boasts an ERA almost 2 runs lower thanlast season and an ERA+ that is up 56 points. Nearly every aspect of Zito’s game has improved except walks, asdocumented by his BB/9 and SO/BB ratio. Like I said, not exactly Cy Young material, but still pretty good stuff.
DoesTom House have something to do with this? Perhaps.  There definitely seemsto be a change in Zito’s game, both physically and mentally.  How contrasted has Zito'sfiery 2012 attitude been to the Zito of years past.  How often have we seen him stare off intospace after a gaggle of runs got scored on his watch?  Maybe Zito isn’t as indifferent about his on-fieldperformance as we once thought.
If you’re still hanging onto the financial and contractualmisgivings you are a master grudge-holder. He’s getting paid too much money – it’s time to move on.  The most important thing to understand now isthat the bar has been lowered, and Zito seems to be hurdling it.  As the 2012 season wears on, I’ll certainlybe watching Barry Zito with vested interest.  After all, I’m a selfish guy, and myreputation depends on it.  

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