Barry Zito is not as terrible as everyone says

Now, there’s a blog headline that will surely attract some attention.

It’s a point that has risen to the surface Monday after the Giants traded away Jonathan Sanchez. Well, many Giants were glad to part ways with the enigmatic Sanchez, their second thought was “Oh, that means Zito is our No. 5 starter.”

But, at  the risk of exposing myself to the wrath of fellow bloggers and online commentators, I am going to take a rather unpopular stand on the Giants letfy.

Now, when any Giants fan thinks about Zito, one thing comes to mind — He has completely underperformed during his seven-year, $140 million contract.

Now, there’s no doubt Zito has not pitched anywhere close to the value of his contract. That’s a given. However, that contract is guaranteed. That money is spent.

It’s like Aaron Rowand. Even though he’s been cut by the Giants, his $12 million contract for 2012 is still on the team’s payroll.

So Giants fans have to stop measuring Zito against the $19 million he’s set to make in 2012 or the $20 million he’ll get in 2013. It serves no purpose.

The question they need to ask on question: Can Zito be a functional No. 5 starter in the Giants’ rotation?

I believe the answer is yes. And I also believe I have the numbers to support that claim.

The first thing I did was throw the 2011 season. Zito was never 100 percent healthy, from the car accident just prior to opening day to the ankle injury that derailed him for two months then was aggravated in July.

The injuries limited Zito to nine starts, which is not a large sample size. For example, if you removed Zito’s worst start — when he gave up 8 run in 3 2/3 innings in his first start after ther All-Star break — his season ERA drops by one run.

Instead, I looked at his 2009 and 2010 numbers. Why? Because they were practically identical.

Then I looked at the No. 5 pitchers of the five NL teams that finished with better records than the Giants. And I didn’t just look at the guy who took the fifth turn in the rotation. I looked at their fifth-worst pitcher.

In some case, like the Cardinals and Braves, it was one pitcher — Jake Westbrook and Derek Lowe. For the others teams, it was a combination of pitchers.

For the Phillies, it was Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton. For the Brewers, it was Chris Narveson and the three late-season starts by Marco Estrada. For the Diamondbacks, it was smorgasbord of Micah Owings, Zach Duke, Armando Gallaraga, Wade Miley, Jason Marquis and Jarrod Parker.

Here are the numbers:

Barry Zito: 33 starts, 196 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

Cardinals: 33 starts, 183 IP, 4.66 ERA, 1.53 WHIP

Diamondbacks: 32 starts, 170 IP, 4.92 ERA, 1.51 WHIP

Braves: 34 starts, 187 IP, 5.05 ERA, 1.51 WHIP

Phillies: 31 starts, 177 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

Brewers: 31 IPs, 179 IP, 4.17 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Zito in 2009-10 had a WHIP that was only behind the Brewers’ No. 5 starter. He had an ERA that’s only behind the Phillies No. 5, which includes 23 starts from Roy Oswalt.

So spending $3-4 million on a free agent pitcher to push Zito in the spring — as some have suggested — is not the way to go. Better to spend that money on improving the defense.

Instead, the Giants should go find a veteran pitcher who will sign a minor-league deal as insurance next spring in case of another injury or Zito implosion. This is what they did in 2009 with Todd Wellemeyer and 2010 with Jeff Suppan.

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