There’s some really clever way to incorporate Barry Zito’s unicorns with fantasy baseball and make this an at least decent opening, I just know it, but it’s not really coming to me. I was also considering some lame headline like “Barry Zito Riding Fantastical Unicorns to Fantasy Success” or something, but though it might have made you click, it probably wouldn’t have made much sense. So, instead of doing any of that, I decided to tell you my thought process going into my opening — and now I’ll begin.
Zito’s had a bumpy ride since signing into pro baseball. He was drafted 9th overall by the Oakland Athletics in 1999, debuted in the summer of 2000, dominated early with his filthy curveball, joined Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder to create the lame-named Oakland Big 3 (no, but seriously, Oakland… Big 3?), killed it until 2004 when Hudson and Mulder fled, signed a sexy deal with San Francisco in 2006, then hit rock-bottom.
After going 20-30 in the two years after signing that seven-year/$126 million contract, Zito was ignominiously removed from the roster during the San Francisco Giants‘s 2010 World Series run, found himself a California pariah and, as recently as this February, was voted as the benefactor of the 6th-worst contract in baseball.
But now — with a couple World Series rings to help mitigate the San Franciscan resentment — Zito is back in good California graces. Riding the luck of unicorns, the Giants have won in each of Zito’s last 13 regular-season starts — he’s also re-found his control, if you’re into all that statistics fluff. Remember, numbers can deceive, unicorns never do. During that streak, Zito’s accrued nine wins and a 2.96 ERA. Since an injured 2011, he’s lowered his BB/9 from 4 to 3.4 to 2.6.
These streak numbers also don’t include Zito’s stellar postseason — a run that’s flowed straight into this year. In three postseason starts last year — one in each series — Zito allowed only 16 hits and 3 ER in 16 innings. San Fran won each game, and Zito got the decision in two of them. Those stats sure look pretty, but when you jumble numbers into overarching streaks, the truth can sometimes be obfuscated.
In those three postseason starts, Zito threw two gems, but also had a 2.2 IP, 2 ER, 76-pitch labor fest in his ALDS start in Cinicinnati where he left with the tying run on base. Oh yeah, and in Zito’s 13-game regular season streak, Zito dealt two duds: 4 IP, 7 ER on August 18; 2.1 IP, 3 ER on August 29. Sure, the Giants came back and won those games, which makes for a great story, but Zito’s streak isn’t nearly as impressive when related to fantasy.
Actually, Zito’s peripheral numbers belie exaggerated luck. In the regular season games last year from August 7 forward (when the ‘win streak’ began), hitters have a .335 BAbip partly due to an increased line-drive rate— 20%. Hitters are hitting the ball just as hard vs. Zito as they did during his struggles, and maybe harder. In his 2012 games prior to the streak, hitters were hitting 17% line drives and finding a .263 BAbip.
Now, in 2013, hitters are still hitting the ball hard with a 24% line-drive rate yet have a lowly .244 BAbip. Also, Zito’s a 43% DP rate in his first two starts of the year. A small sample, yes, but still helpful.
The case for Zito’s continued success is that he’s commanding his pitches better and simply allowing more balls-in-play (ergo, an increased LD%), but that might not necessarily be a terrible thing when Brandon Crawford, Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt are behind you (just don’t let them hit it to third). Also, Buster Posey, with the help of Zito, gunned down 7 of 16 would-be base stealers last season during Zito starts (none have tried this year yet). Zito’s adjusting, throwing more fastballs, and is getting better results.
It’s makes for a great story — especially considering Zito’s charisma and his finally getting the results fans expect when that monster contract was signed — but don’t be fooled into meshing Giants success with Zito fantasy success.
The ERA is there, as are the wins, of course, but the WHIP won’t help you and the strikeouts are pedestrian. He’s a number-five fantasy starter at best, but you’ll be in good shape if you can consistently stream him through good matchups.
But hey, you never know when unicorns are involved.