Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 10, 2006
BASEBALL: I Need A Zito
Some people will tell you that tonight's Game One starter for the A's, Barry Zito, is overrated. They will look at his mediocre W-L records for contending teams, his solid but unspectacular ERAs, his also solid but unspectacular K/BB numbers, compared to the money and attention Zito will attract this offseason, and conclude that Zito isn't really even a legitimate number one starter, let alone a guy who will likely end up as the highest paid pitcher in the game.
All of that is true as far as it goes, but it also misses the point of why Zito was so valuable to the A's that Billy Beane kept him around while he was dealing Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, and why teams will be falling over themselves to get him. You see, there are two things you want, at a minimum, from an expensive investment in a starting pitcher: consistent durability and consistent quality. And Zito is among baseball's best in that regard. Let's look at the major league pitchers who have met, for at least three years running, what you would think of as the minimum tests for a star pitcher: 200 innings pitched and an ERA at least equal to the league (measured by ERA+, baseball-reference.com's park-adjusted comparison to the league ERA). As it turns out, there are but eight pitchers who have met that standard three or more seasons in a row entering 2007:
"200" is consecutive seasons of 200 or more innings, regardless of meeting the quality threshold; "age" is 2007 age. To complete the picture, let's list the guys who have thrown 200 more innings three or more years, but with a shorter string of those seasons beating the league ERA (bear in mind that some of them have beat the league ERA a few times in that stretch; "0" just means they missed it in 2006).
One note on the arbitrary 200-IP cutoff here - if Maddux had thrown an additional two-thirds of an inning in 2002, he'd top the list with 19 years in a row of 200 innings and a 100 or better ERA+.
No, Zito isn't Pedro Martinez; he's never led the league in ERA or strikeouts. But Pedro isn't pitching this week, and Zito is, and that counts too. Don't think GMs the league over aren't excited by Zito's four times leading the American League in starts. Just as with Don Sutton's Hall of Fame credentials, in an age of ever decreasing starting pitcher workloads - this year's Mets setting a new historical nadir - there is much to be said for the sheer dogged persistence of a guy who hitches up the plow every fifth day ready to give his best effort.