I went to the Giants and Mets game last Friday night, and besides the fact that I had a great time with my family, I also was able to witness one of the better pitched games of the big league season as the Giants emerged victorious by the score of 1-0. In that game, oft put down Barry Zito twirled a gem allowing a mere two hits with 10 strikeouts over eight shutout innings as he baffled the Mets all night with his change of speeds and his trademark 12-to-6 curve. So, how serious should you take Barry Zito as a fantasy option in mixed leagues for the second half?
Zito currently has a 3.51 ERA, and after 3-seasons in San Francisco with a mark over 4.00 that is obviously some major improvement. Zito also has a 1.26 WHIP, again another San Fran best (1.35 was is his best mark in the orange and black). Has he pitched better than in years past, but has he merely been lucky in 2010? According to Fielding Independent Pitching ERA his mark is 3.75, and that would be his best mark since 2001. Zito also has a 3.28 Component ERA and a 3.84 DIPS ERA, so he has pitched pretty well this season, especially compared to that past couple of years as he has struggled to live up to the expectations of his $126 million deal.
As for his WHIP, you can thank a couple of things for his return to better than league average in that measure. First off he is two tenths below his career BB/9 mark of 3.71 at 3.51, and fewer walks obviously lead to fewer runners on base (yeah, I just typed that completely asinine comment. Perhaps we should blame the copious amount of vodka I drank this afternoon for that). That walk rate would also be his best mark since 2004. Secondly, Zito continues to be an extremely difficult batter to get a hit off of. He’s currently sporting a .239 batting average against, an exact match for his career mark, and his best mark since 2005 when he held hitters to a .221 mark. The good news is that his hit rate is .279, .004 points above his career mark, so clearly he isn’t operating at a level that makes you think a regression is coming when the hits start falling. At the same time his BAA could increase in the second half given that his current line drive rate is 17.4 percent – it’s been over 20 percent each of the past three years.
All of that brings up an interesting point. I know it’s arbitrary and really has no basis for mattering one iota, but Zito has clearly been a better pitcher in the second half of the season in his career, and by a substantial margin. Here is the data.
Pre All-Star: 65-70, 4.18 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.61 K/9, 1.75 K/BB, .250 BAA
Post All-Star: 76-40, 3.39 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 6.92 K/9, 1.91 K/BB, .224 BAA
Usually I don’t put too much value in breakdowns like this, but in the case of Zito the data is so stark that it must be taken seriously.
Zito is a mixed league option right now, and he figures to be in the second half as well. At the same time his K/9 mark (6.66), K/BB rate (1.90) and GB/FB ratio (0.82) are pretty much league average, so any improvement in his performance in the second half might be hard to come by. Still, he doesn’t figure to be an anchor in the ratio categories, but when he is twirling that knee buckling curve of his like he was on Friday night there aren’t many hurlers who are more fun to watch.
By Ray Flowers