Barry Zito's sky is falling for the seventy billionth time since his career began: Tim Marchman has a column today wondering whether Barry Zito's contract is the worst of all time.
I guess my three-partseries about Zito has made me somewhat of a Zito expert, so I suppose I should respond. Let us summarize what we know about Barry Zito:
1. His detractors over the years have looked at his peripheral stats and conclude he's not as good as his ERA, because his (luck/big foul territory/good defense) masks his shortcomings.
2. Point #1 is crap.
Barry Zito's success rests on his proven ability to reduce the BABIP of right-handed batters far lower than normal. That's what makes him special. It's skill, not luck (see TangoTiger for more); it's not the foul ground (no significant home/road splits), and it's not the defense (he did this even when he had Ben Grieve, Terrence Long and Matt Stairs in the outfield behind him.)
Against left-handed batters, he's pretty much been an average ho-hum major league pitcher. But because the vast majority of batters are right-handed, Zito succeeds.
So Zito is having a bad year. I've heard that he's lost his control, he's lost his velocity. Is the sky at last falling?
Um, no. Let's look at the important numbers:
If Zito was losing his stuff, he'd be struggling against both LHB and RHB this year. But he's been just as good as ever against RHB. His bread and butter is still there, and still working just fine.
Zito's struggles this year are entirely with left-handed batters. Like his worst season in 2004, he's allowed an extremely high BABIP against them. In addition, the word has apparently gotten around about his reverse splits, and he's facing a higher percentage of LHB this year than ever before.
Zito has had these troubles with LHB before, and fixed them. I think he can fix them again. I wouldn't quite give up on him yet.