“Are We Really Debating This?” Part Deux
If you picked up the San Francisco Chronicle and perused Bruce Jenkins’ latest column today, you were probably left scratching your head. Or at least I was. The general thesis of the article was that the prevailing emotion within the Giants’ organization concerning Barry Zito was “exasperation,” and that “his status as a No. 5 starter is ‘definitely not safe,’” per a source close to the team. Jenkins went on to suggest that the Giants would not be opposed to cutting ties with the lefty altogether, citing a “healthy source of urgency within the world champions’[sic] camp,” and that they were giving veteran Jeff Suppan and minor league lefty Clayton Tanner a “close look.
Grant from McCovey Chronicles summed up the article earlier today, but it merits repeating here. Mentioning a Chronicle article about concerns for Brian Wilson, Grant astutely noted the following: “I guess I can see that ‘Everything is going pretty well and there aren’t any major concerns right now’ wouldn’t be the most exciting story for the sportspage.” This quote pretty much sums up the theme of reporting from the Giants’ camp this Spring. There are few, if any, positional battles. The new and improved Pablo Sandoval looks great so far, the rotation is set, and the only real “debate” is whether or not Marc Kroon will make the roster. I went over the obvious a sportswriter has to drum up anything they possibly can in a slow news environment, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.
Concerning Jenkins’ article though, there are a number of reasons why his source “close to the team” is either out of his/her right mind or is woefully misinformed. First and foremost, Bruce Bochy himself came out and said he “told (Zito) he would be our fourth starter.” No better source than the guy who makes the decisions if you ask me. Secondly, for a no. 4/5 starter, Zito is perfectly adequate. Thirdly, Jeff Suppan and Clayton Tanner are not, I repeat, not sufficient replacements. Tanner has never spent time above AA, and Suppan hasn’t been good since Willie Mays was a Giant. Despite the fact that the Giants are paying Zito no. 1 money for no. 4 talent, there is no one better. If and when someone is ready to join the rotation (Zack Wheeler and Eric Surkamp come to mind), then we can start worrying about the “exasperation” of the organization.
Jenkins goes on to cite the following, which will of course be subject to further scrutiny:
He has been a sub-.500 pitcher in each of his four seasons with San Francisco (40-57 total), the fan base has completely given up on him, and he wouldn’t be anywhere near the Giants’ roster this spring were it not for his contract: $18.5 million owed this season, $39 million more through 2013 and a $7 million buyout for 2014.
There’s a whole lot to pick apart in that one sentence so let’s get to work. It’s a well established fact that wins and losses are not an accurate way of discerning a pitcher’s worth; even old school pundits have come to terms with this. Zito had some of the worst run support in the league last season, which contributed largely to his 9-14 record, so citing W-L is irrelevant. Concerning the fan base that’s completely giving up on him, I’d say that’s a tad hyperbolic. Last I checked there was no dependable way of quantifying a fan base’s dwindling faith in players, so the second criteria isn’t really relevant either. I will agree that Zito’s contract is a large reason as to why he’s stuck around for this long, but that goes without saying. The guy got a 7 year deal averaging $17 million a season when signed on, so it goes without saying that his contract handcuffs the Giants’ decision-making.
What you should take from all this is that there’s no conflict within the rotation. Barry Zito is the fourth starter, end of story. Sure, writing plush stories about how well the Giants get along and little conflict there actually is isn’t all that exciting. But it’s true. There are real concerns worth covering, but Barry Zito’s security in the rotation in Spring Training based on one start where he walked five guys is not chief among them.