Barry Zito was all the rage in 2006 – so many Mets fans were willing to plunder the farm system to trade for him mid-season and then willing to back up the Brinks truck to sign him in the off-season. The San Francisco Giants “won” that sweepstakes, committing seven years and $126 million to the former Oakland lefty.
Since then, Zito has … um, struggled. As of this writing he is 0-7 with a 6.95 ERA and a 1.871 WHIP in 2008. There have been a number of theories postulated about the root causes of Zito’s sudden demise, but one writer has found an unusual culprit – Oakand GM Billy Beane.
The author gently blames Beane for some of Zito's woes, noting that Oakland starters are generally ridden harder because they rarely re-sign with the team once they reach free agency. Zito, according to the author, averaged 106 pitches a game throughout his tenure with the Athletics. Always among the league leaders in batters faced, the author speculates that this may have something to do with the mysterious drop in Zito's velocity.
Frankly, I don’t think Zito was overused in the slightest. During his last three years with the Athletics, he never made more than 35 starts in a single season, never pitched more than 230 innings in one year and never threw more than 128 pitches in a game. Yes, Zito threw a lot of pitches, but that’s because he was inefficient. The number of walks were too high – from 81 in 2004 to 99 in 2006 – and faced over 900 batters in all three seasons.
What’s more, pitchers like Zito should be “overused” by their teams. It’s one of the few advantages small-market teams have – if they know they have no chance of re-signing a player when he hits free agency, why on earth wouldn’t you try to wring every last inning out of him? I don’t quite understand what obligation the Athletics had to monitor Barry Zito’s pitch count once it became abundantly clear he wouldn’t be wearing their uniform much longer.
Let’s also not forget something very important – one of the reasons Barry Zito got as much money as he did in free agency is because he was so durable (at least by today’s standards). Zito never made less than 34 starts or pitched less than 213 innings throughout his six full seasons in Oakland. What was that worth on the open market? An additional 10 million over seven years? Maybe 20 million?