From Fred Claire (MLB):
There is a trend in baseball that has to be frightening to any small revenue team that has a bright young pitcher, and that is the amazing escalation of salaries for star hurlers.
The recent record-setting contracts for pitchers have been expensive and long term, a dangerous combination.
In just over two years, we have seen Barry Zito signed by the Giants for a total of $126 million for seven years, Johan Santana signed by the Mets for $137.5 million for six years and now Sabathia for $161 million for seven years.
Claire continues with the following:
Pitchers simply carry more risk despite the dollars that are spent, and you can look at the $100-million-plus deals of Mike Hampton and Kevin Brown as classic examples.
CC Sabathia was and is worthy of his contract. As long as he does not get injured, he’ll be a sure-thing and will anchor the Yankees’ rotation for at least the next 3 years. It’s easy to blame the pitchers—Zito, Brown, Hampton and others— for their performances after receiving $100 million contracts, but I think the onus has to be on those who gave them the contracts, instead.
Now, with Mike Hampton and Kevin Brown, there was a lot going on in those situations. For instance, Hampton’s mega-deal was with the Rockies and he couldn’t pitch at the hitters’ haven that is Coors Field (on the flip side, in ’01 he hit 7 homers there—a big surprise—and in ’02 he hit .344). By the time he got out of there, it was too late. Then there’s Kevin Brown and his steroid using ways. So, that leaves me with the biggest and truest bust—Barry Zito.
Zito, while great with the Athletics, was bound to be bad with the Giants. The writing was on the wall and could be read from 2002-06. In ’02 and ’03, Zito pitched well with a 2.75 and 3.30 ERA. However, his BABIP in those years was .254 and .248 (pitchers are typically closer to .300) and his FIP figures were 3.87 and 4.05. Defense, luck, it was all going his way. Then, in 2004, Barry stopped being lucky. His BABIP finally regressed to .300 and we saw an era of 4.48, which was in congruence with his FIP of 4.50. Zito was, in fact, pitching to what he was capable of yet the telltale signs of trouble were just beginning.
In ’04 Zito’s K/9 was 6.89. In 2005, the number fell to 6.74 and in 2006 it was 6.15. Also, his BB/9 increased from 3.42 (’04) to 3.51 to 4.03. At the same time, his BABIP dropped from .300 (’04) to .250 and then .280. His FIP in those two years was 4.34 and 4.89 and seemed to reflect the negative trends that were occurring. Essentially, Zito should have been pitching to a mid-4 ERA or higher, but his luck with batted balls in play allowed him to maintain a respectable ERA in ’05 (3.86) and ’06 (3.83).
This all came together in 2007—Barry’s first year with SF. His BABIP was .305 and his K/9 was the lowest it had ever been while his BB/9 was poor at 3.80. His FIP was 4.82 and his actual ERA was 4.53. Reality had finally caught up to Zito, however the numbers indicated that a $126 million deal was going to be a problem. Should we blame him for taking the money or blame the guys who gave him the monye? Throw in his age and a diminished fastball and there you go.
Meanwhile, CC Sabathia’s numbers continue to be showcase skill and talent that cannot be attributed to loads of luck or immaculate defense. His advanced statistics sparkle and shine in a way that did not happen for Barry Zito. Outside of his inning totals (hardly an advanced metric, by any means), there’s nothing in there that forecasts any sort of major decline. Two compare him and Zito’s contract means you must compare the numbers and, in this case, the numbers do not lie.
Barry Zito is working hard to regain the form he once had but I wonder if he’ll ever regain it. He was given a bad contract—plain and simple. Conversely, I don’t think CC Sabathia will Zito himself anytime soon. He’s going to be good as the only real risk pertains to health and that’s a risk with any pitcher, no matter how much money you line his pockets with.
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