Friday, July 08, 2011

Cy Zito: So Far So Good

When Barry Zito returned to action, it was noted in an article that one of the big changes he has made was to drop the slider out of his repertoire because that had to be thrown from a different slot than his other pitches, which affected his command for his other pitches, and that this slider was added after his Cy Young season, and, it was implied, was partly to blame for his decline from that great season.  Suggesting, of course, that we will see a new Barry the rest of this season.  So far, so good, though as noted before, he had a similar great stretch to start 2010 and everything declined from there.

Still, can't ask for much better.  Zito is having - dare I say it :^) - a Vogelsongian re-birth season?

Right when Jonathan Sanchez implodes again, with some sort of arm ailment, which probably makes him untradeable for the value we should be able to get for him, Zito was ready to come back into the rotation.  In fact, it was pretty inconvenient still because a Cubs rainout forced a double-header and a six game stretch in five days, and even with Zito, the Giants either had to push a pitcher to pitch on short rest or bring up somebody for one start or have a bullpen start.  That made Sanchez's sudden DL - after saying he was fine the day before - appear to be truthful and not one of those phantom ailments, because it would have been much better if Sanchez had pitched his next start and THEN have a sudden arm ailment that he needed to be DLed.  In any cases, none of them were good choices, somebody would have to suck it up.

Zito Game 1:  Saves Bullpen, Continue Win Streak

Zito comes out, first game of the double-header, and he really needed to pitch deep into the game, as there was still the night game plus the six games in five days, and the potential for a bullpen start.  He goes 7.0 innings, only gave up 4 hits and 2 walks, though only 3 strikeouts, for 2 R/ER.  Saves the bullpen and he was one more strikeout or one less walk away from a DOM start; personally, for pitchers who can control BABIP like Zito does, I would allow the conversion of one walk into one hit for the purposes of PQS calculations, which in this case would give him a DOM start.  He also contributed to the Giants extending their win streak to 6 games.

Zito Game 2:  Mans Up, Saves Bullpen Twice, Help Avoid Losing Streak

Now that was pretty good, but, while the numbers don't look good on the surface, I think he outdoes his first start in the second start.  He jumps on the grenade and offers to pitch on short rest, 3 days.  He had never done that before in his career in the regular season, and did it once in the playoffs.  But he said it was no big deal, as he normally threw a lot between starts anyway, so he cancelled one day of throwing so that he could take that start against the Tigers.

On the surface, he only pitched 6.0 innings against Detroit, giving up 5 hits and 2 walks, but only one strikeout, and despite the lacking of strikeouts, he gives up no runs.  Not a DOM start, not really close, but that's what happens when you only have one strikeout, you can't really have a DOM start.  But it was a 3 PQS, so it was OK.

What the boxscore doesn't show is that he pitched two innings before a freak thunderstorm roared into the area FOR THE NEXT 2-3 HOURS.  Most starters would have called it a day and let the bullpen take over. But in this case, that would have made this into a bullpen game that the Giants were trying to avoid with Zito starting, in the first place.

Instead, Zito kept himself ready and focused during the delay, then when play resumed, the Giants scored some more runs, on a Tejada grandslam running up the score to 10-0 by the middle of the third inning.  So now, not only does he need to keep pitching, but he has to speed things up a little in order to make the game official and not risk the chance of the game being cancelled (vs. suspended; I've never understood the arcane rules on how baseball does it, except other than it does not seem consistent nor right).  He pitches another four innings, and while he didn't strike out many, he didn't walk many either and he got a lot of weak contact that sped up the game and got easy outs.  That was an amazing pitching performance, in light of all this context.

Zito Game 3:  Great DOM Game, Saves Bullpen Again, Help Avoid Losing Streak Again

Now, in his latest start, his third since returning, he outdoes his first two starts.  He goes 8.0 innings, gives up only 4 hits plus ZERO walks (first since 2007, reported by Baggarly, and only 7th in his career, with 3 with Giants, 2 in 2007, and now this one), while striking out 7 and giving up 1 R/ER on a Ludwick homer that kept things close, another one-run win for the Giants.  That is a DOM start with an exclamation point, as he rarely strikes out as many innings he pitch, being one away, especially with so many innings, is rare for him.  When he is going good, he does that regularly.  Of course, as with everything in his career, he needs to do it again, but first you got to do it.

And, of course, any team can use a DOM start that goes 8 innings, but the Giants especially needed it in this game again.  First of all, the Giants bullpen saved, nay, won the game before with 8 splendid innings after Bumgarner had a bad BABIP game.  They were pretty much spent by doing that, but did it they did, retiring the last 17 'Dres in a row, almost 6 no-hit innings.

Second of all, the Giants needed to split the series with the 'Dres, San Diego has had a kind of a hex on the Giants in recent seasons, particularly last season when they went 12-6, which was the only reason that they were even in contention at the end, based on both teams production, the season's series should have been around .500, and the Giants would have won it going away, no Naysayer talk about "luck".  This Zito win split the series instead of having it ending 1-3 and giving SD some hope of coming back up into contention by beating the Giants, as they have 8 games against the Giants in two weeks.

Third of all, Zito's great start helped the Giants avoid an extended losing streak.  After Zito's great win against Detroit, the Giants then lost the next three games, including both Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain hiccups and losses.  While Bumgarner is the one who broke that losing streak, Zito's win was also important as it prevented it from becoming a 4 losses in 5 games streak.

Zito's Stats

All in all, Zito and the team has been 3-0 in three starts since he came off the DL.  As noted above, all his wins have been crucial to the team in a number of ways.  He has a 1.29 ERA over 21.0 IP, giving up only 13 hits and, more amazingly, only 4 walks (he usually does that in one start), with 11 strikeouts.

There is a lot of luck, as his BABIP in that stretch was .190, but while that is far from the .300 mean most pitchers regress to, early in his career, it was not unusual for him to have a BABIP around .240, which is not as far away.  Of course, that presumes that he has reverted back to his earlier career with him dropping his slider, though it should be noted that he accomplished a couple of those low BABIP seasons when he had the slider.  It was just his ERA rose in those seasons relative to before.

Over a 6 IP game, where he don't strike out as much as other pitchers, and thus have more BIP, at .240 BABIP, he gives up roughly 1.5 hits less than the average pitcher, while walking about 0.5 hitters than what a good pitcher does.  That is a good tradeoff of hits and walks, allowing him to do what he can do, which is minimize damage via hits.  During this good streak, he is giving up roughly 3.0 hits less than the average pitcher, lucky to the tune of 1.5 hits.  Looking at the games he pitched, as long as those hits were not at crucial RISP situations, even had he given up those hits, the results would not have been much different from what he did.

As much as the low BABIP is very helpful, I think the key in this streak has been his much reduced number of walks.  4 walks in three starts is incredible for him, more so because he pitched more innings than he usually does for us.  That is 1.7 BB/9, minuscule for any pitcher, let alone Zito.  He would usually be around 9-10 walks in that many innings, so that's 5-6 less baserunners with the potential of moving into scoring position, along with less hits to drive them in.  When BABIP worsens for him, those hits won't be as costly still because the odds of there being a runner to drive in would be less, assuming he can continue to walk so few.

Giants Thoughts

He has had similar enough streaks of lack of walks, though nothing this low, nor with this high a K/BB:  11 K/4 BB = excellent 2.75 ratio where the best pitchers are over 2.40.  Still, he has around three such 3-game streaks in the past two seasons, and even a 4-game streak in his first season with the Giants, so it is not horribly unlikely for this to happen, it is just good that it did happen, especially when the team needed it for the reasons noted above.

The key, as usual, much like Ryan Vogelsong, is for him to keep this going beyond 3 starts.  Each game is an adventure that he has to conquer and perform in.  For him to earn similar talk to what Vogelsong is doing, it will be a start by start acceptance, earning his reputation back, start by start.  Of course, it is way better that he did this than to do his usual.  Now it is a matter of doing it more than over a 3 or 4 start period, but doing it consistently over the rest of the season, as Vogelsong has so far.

If he is able to do it, that would bring up the question again when Dirty comes off the DL, what happens to the pitching staff?  Does a starter become a reliever?  Do we have a larger pitching staff or do we have to let someone go, probably via a trade (I would guess Mota)?  Will the Giants go with a 6 man rotation?

As unlikely a 6-man rotation is, there are some signs that is possible.  First of all, the Royals just did it, so the Giants would not be the first in recent memory.  Most important of all, though, Bochy said that they discussed it and dismissed it as an option.  So it is on their radar, and that means that should the situation change, they might implement it.

As I noted before, when the team gets into their post-ASG period, starting July 26th, there will be 26 games in 27 days, only one day of rest.  Then after a day off, there is another 15 games in 16 days.  That's 41 games in 44 days.  That is a period where the Giants should go with a 6-man rotation in order to keep the pitchers on regular rest, and give extra rest when there is a day off.

I think that is important given a number of factors.  One is that the Giants starters did throw a lot more innings than they had last season.  Taking away some of those innings during the regular season would give him more in the tank for the playoffs, should they make it.  As long as the Giants are leading the division, they can take this different (and thus risky) move, as they can always go back at any time that they don't think that it is working.

Second, as great as the rotation looks, both Sanchez and Zito had DL time this season and for pitchers, that has to be a warning sign of troubles down the line.  Zito not as much due to the fact that the auto accident most probably caused damage that he wasn't aware of until he injured himself (but which was evident by how poorly he was doing up to then), but still, once injured, I think that raises the odds of recurrence.

Third, as great as the Vogelsong story is, he hasn't really pitched a full season for a number of seasons now.  He will be stretched in terms of endurance sometime in August, and unless he threw every day, as apparently Zito has and Madison Bumgarner had and maybe still does (just not as much), he should start to tire and his performance will go drastically downward.  At that point, with a 6-man rotation, he could be the pitcher we skip when there is a day off, to give him extra rest between starts.  Dirty might also need rest as well, we don't know what shape he will be in once he gets off the DL.

But first, Zito has to perform.  So far, so good.  Now do it again.


  1. Good stuff, OGC. Thanks for doing the research and presenting the facts.

  2. Great insight on Zito OGC. You make a compelling arguement for a 6-man roatation in the upcoming months. With your analyitics background I hope you find these tools useful.

    Here is an article in a simialr vein:




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