Monday, August 8, 2011

Wait... Barry Zito Wasn't an Ace When the Giants Signed Him?

Jonah Keri writing at Grantland has a new article up about using advanced pitching statistics that could have avoided some of the recent really bad pitching signings. Yes, that includes the Giants and Barry Zito.

Here is what Keri said about Zito:
Even in Zito's Cy Young season, his fielding-independent profile suggested a pitcher more than a run worse than his ERA would suggest — and nowhere near that 23-5 record. In fact, Zito's ability to miss bats was already waning by the time he won that Cy Young in his third big league season, at age 24. His strikeout rate dropped from an excellent 8.7 per 9 innings in 2001 to a slightly above average 7.1 in 2002 to a poor 5.7 in 2003. With the help of some great teams behind him,3 Zito's superficial stats continued to look strong even as he struck out fewer batters, walked more batters, and gave up more home runs. All that time, Zito's home ballpark propped him up. From 2002 through 2006, Zito posted an infield fly ball percentage of 15.6, third-highest among all qualified starters. Oakland-Alameda County/Network Associates/McAfee/ Coliseum contains enough foul territory to house all of Antonio Cromartie's kids, and Zito was a soft-tossing fly ball pitcher who squeezed all he could from that environment, including .245, .243, and .239 BABIPs during that five-year stretch.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean and owner Peter Magowan ignored Zito's peripherals, dreamed of the guy they'd seen a half-decade earlier, and envisioned a new Giants ace whose charisma would turn the Barry Bonds Era into the Barry Zito Era. A past-his-prime Zito tried to throw his 85 mph fastball and diminished curve in a park that favored pitchers but didn't proffer that huge infield fly edge, and his lackluster performance finally caught up to his superficial numbers. And here we are.
Yeah, that doesn't look too good in hindsight (actually, it doesn't look to good if you were rating the deal at the time).

Here is some more stuff that shows the drop off in Zito using FIP- where 100 is league average and every point below means one percent better than league average (with the opposite true for numbers above 100).

2000: 81
2001: 82
2002: 90
2003: 91
2004: 100
2005: 103
2006: 110
2007: 107
2008: 109
2009: 101
2010: 106

In the three years before he was a free agent, Zito averaged 104.33. In the four years since, he has averaged 105.75. Zito has been pretty much exactly what you would expect, which is a pitcher who is right about league average.

The Giants paid for his name recognition, his Cy Young, and All-Star selections. They got pretty much exactly what the advanced stats said he should be.

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