Monday, July 07, 2008

Zelebrating Zito

Perhaps it is in the newspaper columnist credo or handbook to be negative. Or perhaps they are just biased against the Giants, as the Merc's columnists have appeared to be since the A's announced their move down south (nothing like public commercial butt kissing). Or maybe it is just the media's inclination towards the negative.

But it is not like being a fan means that you are not realistic or objective about things. Yes, Zito has been terrible up to now as a Giants. But that doesn't mean that we Giants fans couldn't enjoy what Zito has done over the past three games since he announced that he's back (plus his former high 80's velocity is back, reportedly).

One criticism I've seen is that the 88 MPH recorded at home over the weekend against LA was inflated, with an off-handed comment that it also recorded a D-ger "journeyman" reliever at 97 MPH, implying that there's something wrong with the radar gun in SF. The fact is that even journeyman pitchers can throw 97 MPH, particularly when that journeyman is a 6 foot, 6 inches and 230 pounds specimen. If the critic was interested in the Giants in any significant way this season (or even knowledgeable about baseball in general), he would have known that the Giants have their own pitcher, who used to easily top 100 MPH but couldn't make the team because he was too wild, walking too many (Erick Threets if that critic is reading) and that high 90's journeymen are dime a dozen because they could never harness that speed to effectively get batters out.

In addition, this was reported even before Zito returned home to SF. He was recorded at such relatively high velocity in the previous games on the road as well. So unless he is claiming the Giants conspired to change the radar at the parks away as well as at home, then his claims of a return of his velocity is accurate and true.

Another comment I've seen is that Zito has to duplicate his great effort against the D-gers "only about 11 or 12 more times" this season to make this a "non-terrible" season. Only someone who is trying to set up someone else for failure by setting unrealistic expectations to ensure failure would say that, because Zito's Saturday's 7 IP, 6 hits, 1 walk, 10 strikeout effort is nothing like what Zito has regularly done in his career. At best, he does that maybe once, twice a season - since 2002 Zito has had 10+ strikeouts in only 1-2 games per season. The last (and only) time he even had over 2 games with 10+ strikeouts was his first full season in 2002, when he had 5 such games.

Zito does not need to do anything but pitch like he did for the A's just prior to joining the Giants. That will include games like Saturday when he is dominating the other team. It will include games where he is as clueless as he has been for most of the start of this season and the start of last season. Overall, though, there will be a lot of good pitching, with a high 3 ERA, if he simply reverts to past performance levels. To suggest that he needs to duplicate Saturday's outing roughly a dozen more times this season, when he's never done anything close to that before, is outrageous. He just has to pitch below 4 ERA for the rest of the reason to show that things are better, well, that and keeping his velocity up this high.

Positive Points

As reported in the media, this was his first 10+ strikeout game since 2005. What I thought was more interesting was the 3 games since Zito said he was back. So I went through his game log on the fabulous Baseball-Reference.com website and found these interesting facts about 3 game streaks he has had in recent (and not so recent) years:
  • In this 3 game streak, he went 18.2 IP, gave up 16 hits and 6 walks, 1 HR and struck out 20. His ERA was 3.38 and batting line against was .222/.291/.347/.638
  • The last time he had a 3 game streak where he struck out more than his innings pitched was from 6/7 to 6/17 2005. He went 17 IP, gave up 14 hits and 11 walks, 2 HR and struck out 20. His ERA was 5.29 and batting line against was .222/.338/.365/.703
  • The last time he had a 3 game streak where he struck out more than his innings pitched and struck out double what he walked was 9/12 to 9/22 2004. He went 18 IP, gave up 15 hits and 7 walks, 1 HR and struck out 21. His ERA was 3.00 and batting line against was .224/.293/.313/.606. Also of note was that he had two other 3 game streaks in 2004 where he struck out equal to or more than the innings pitched and struck out at least double what he walked: 4/29 to 5/11 and 6/3 to 6/15.
  • He had no 3 game streak where his strikeouts were more than IP in 2003.
  • In 2002, he had two such streaks, basically one after another, from 5/11 to 5/21 and from 5/21 to 6/1, bookended by 10+ strikeout games. Together that is his last 5 game streak where he struck out more than innings pitched.
  • In 2001, his first full season, he had a large number of them. He had a 6 game streak to start the season, a 3 game from 5/16 to 5/27, a 9 game from 6/22 to 8/4, a 3 game from 8/20-30, and a 5 game from 9/10 to 10/7.
Thus, the last time he pitched as well over a 3 game stretch was in 2004. That means that he wasn't good enough as a pitcher to dominate well enough over a three game stretch in 2005, 2006, and 2007. That shows how different this three game stretch in 2008 is, as it is something very different from any three game stretch that he has done over the past four seasons.

In addition, since 2002, he hasn't not had that many 3 game stretches, period, where he struck out more than innings pitched. Two in 2002 but zero in 2003, averaging out to one such three game stretch of strikeout excellence from 2002 to 2005, one such three game stretch of strikeout excellence and command of location (that is, strikeout more than double walks) every 2 years or so over the past 7 seasons.

So these are positives I take from the last three games. Yes, he needs to continue to pitch well to show that he is past his previous problems as a Giants pitcher. But he hasn't pitched this well over a three game stretch for 4 seasons now, and hasn't really done this that often in his career, since his first full season in the majors.

Could it be a fluke? Perhaps. But since it is something he did only when he was pitching better in general, it could also be a sign that he has finally turned things around. The velocity reported of 88 MPH is one sign. This three game stretch is another. Peripherals generally don't lie. These are all positives I see.

3 comments:

  1. If I recall correctly, after looking at the PFX numbers from his start, Zito was mostly working between 85-87mph. Which for Zito, is much better than the 83-85 he's been at during parts of this season. So, the gun might not have been too far off at AT&T.

    I think it did have Chan Ho hitting 97 a couple of times, which is obviously out of his range these days (if it ever was in his range to begin with).

    My question with Zito's velocity coming back was basically, is it permanent? Or will it come and go? Because we don't know right now.

    The game was good to see from Zito, I'll give you that and I think any Giants fan will agree that it was good to see Zito pitch well.

    But I have a hard time putting a significant portion of faith into just three starts, because of sample size issues. What I will do, is take them as small gains and hope for the best.

    I think you also have to take into account opponent strength over his last three starts. He did well against Cleveland and LA, both are a little under average teams, offensively. But got torched against the Cubs, who have the 2nd best offense in all of baseball. He gets the Mets next who are slightly above average offensively right now. If he pitches well against them, I think you can take it as another small positive.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Chan Ho hitting 97 would be legit complaint. Falkenbourg hitting 97 wasn't.

    Basically agree with everything you say, I didn't say anything different in my post, other than there are positives to take from the performance because it is something he hasn't done since 2004. Still a long way to go before we say everything is fine, but I provided a fact about Zito's performance that suggests that maybe things are different this time. We shall see.

    Nice analysis about teams hitting against him, but you also need to remember a couple of things about the D-ger's situation: 1) home park one of the most extreme pitcher's park around; 2) lots of injuries have forced the D-gers to play below average players during the season. The lineup Zito faced is probably the best configuration of the D-gers lineup with Jones and Nomar back from DL, the only downside was Ardoin catching and Martin playing 3B, instead of Martin catching and DeWitt or LaRoche at 3B.

    Look at the lineup, their best hitters up top: Kemp, Ethier, Martin, Kent. Plus Jones, who I thought was done last season and appears to be done, and Nomar, who is still a good hitter, and particularly Loney, who has been a good hitter, but just average at 1B. That's 6 good hitters in the top 7 spots, and Jones is still dangerous for the long-ball.

    So I don't think of them as slightly below average, they are at least slightly above average, and I think more because I like (fear) their young group of hitters of Kemp, Ethier, Martin, Loney, and I think LaRoche will eventually join them.

    If Pierre had started and led-off for the D-gers instead, with the rest of the hitters the same except Kemp or Ethier replaced by Pierre, then I would agree that the lineup was below-average.

    ReplyDelete
  3. >> Nice analysis about teams hitting against him, but you also need to remember a couple of things about the D-ger's situation: 1) home park one of the most extreme pitcher's park around

    For what it's worth, I was using EqA as my measure of team offense. The Dodgers are at .251 and league average is set to .260.

    EqA adjusts for home park, so them playing in Chavez Ravine won't hurt their score.

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