This past offseason I was watching one of those list shows that the MLB Network likes to fill out its offseason schedule.
This one was the Best Players in Major League History from A to Z. The concept was to come up with the best player in big-league history with a name that starts with each letter in the alphabet (i.e. A is for Hank Aaron, B is for Barry Bonds, etc.).
It was fun trying to guess which player they would come up with for each letter. But when they got all the way down to Z, I will admit I was stumped to come up with a name.
They started out by talking about the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman. But that wasn’t their pick. Who was?
But still, Barry Zito?
Well, Giants fan may find it hard to remember, but when Zito pitched for the A’s in the early 2000s, he was one of the top lefties in the game. He won a Cy Young Award in 2002 and was a three-time All-Star with Oakland.
All of that became a distant memory when Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Giants in 2007, then went about failing to live up to that deal.
Then in 2012, he had a solid season, particularly down the stretch and into the postseason with big outings in the NLCS and World Series. And it was that, as much as anything, that got Zito this nod.
Because I doubt that if the MLB Network did this show prior to the 2012 season, Zito would not have been the pick.
Remember back in spring training of 2012, when Zito was monkeying with how he stood on the mound and he got lit up? Many Giants fans were wondering if Zito should even open the year in the rotation.
But what did Zito do? He shut out the Rockies … in Colorado. It was the start of a resurgent season for Zito.
Now, as one sabermetrician pointed out on Twitter last week, how can a season in which Zito posted a 4.15 ERA be called resurgent? That ERA was comparable with a couple of other seasons Zito has posted with the Giants (4.15 in 2010 when he went 9-14, 4.03 in 2009 when he went 10-13).
True. But last season, Zito was more consistently solid than in any other season in a Giants uniform. He posted 17 quality starts in 2012, tying him with the likes of Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija.
More than that, he had 16 starts in which he didn’t allow more than two runs (three of those starts were not quality starts because he didn’t complete six innings). He had five starts in which he allowed no runs. His last five starts of the 2012 regular season were all quality starts, and in only one did he allow three runs.
Also, his 2012 ERA got inflated by two particularly bad outings: June 19 against the Angels when he gave up eight runs in 3.1 innnings, and an Aug. 2 start against the Mets when he got tagged for seven runs in 4.1 innings.
Take those two starts out, and Zito’s ERA is 3.57.
The start against the Mets is also significant because it was the last time that Zito started a game that the Giants lost. The Giants won Zito’s next 11 regular-season starts, his three postseason starts (including the season-saver in Game 5 of the NLCS and a solid Game 1 start in the World Series), and now back-to-back starts to open the 2013 season.
And it’s hard to lose a game when you’re pitcher is throwing up zeros.
Zito has opened the season with 14 scoreless innings against the Cardinals and Rockies, after seven shutout innings in the Giants’ x-x win over Colorado, completing a three-game sweep and extending the Giant’s win streak over the Rockies to nine games.
One parting thought about Zito’s start to 2013, if he continues to throw into the seventh inning all season, he will easily eclipse 200 innings for the first time as a Giant. And that’s important because then an $18 million option for 2014 will kick in.
Of course, if Zito makes 31 more starts like his first two, it might actually be worth the money.
And one year ago, that would have been hard to imagine.