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Giants Land Barry Zito

Once again it was the always reliable Ken Rosenthal breaking the news that Barry Zito had found a new team.  Yet he's not moving far from his old home in Oakland.  No, the Mets didn't sign Zito, nor did the Mariners or Rangers.  The San Francisco Giants did, and they are keeping the 28-year old southpaw in the Bay Area on the strength of a seven year deal worth around 126 million dollars.  The deal is also said to include an 18 million dollar option for the 2014 season.

So, what does this mean for the Giants, who have signed Zito to the longest deal in team history.

They have certainly acquired a big-name pitcher, and have also found their replacement for Jason Schmidt.  But what can they expect from Zito for 2007 and beyond?  

It's almost impossible to accurately project Barry Zito 7 years from now, but looking at his peripherals and DIPS ERA, it's difficult for me to like the direction Zito is headed in:

Looking things over, you have strikeout rates that are around the league average, walk rates that have really climbed above the league average (at least over the past two seasons), and uninspiring home-run rates that also have ranked around the league average.

Probably the most interesting facet of his game is when you compare his actual ERA and DIPS ERA.  Zito hasn't posted appealing peripheral statistics, but has gotten away with it, posting better actual ERA's than DIPS ERA's.  

Whether that continues will be told in the upcoming years, but I certainly don't feel a pitcher who presents the type of peripherals Barry Zito does is worth the 6th largest contract in Major League History.

What about the ballpark?  With a full no-trade clause included in the deal, Zito is going to pitch many games at AT&T Park over the rest of his career.  Here are the 3-year Park Factor's for AT&T Park, and just for kicks we'll compare them to McAfee Coliseum:

The good news here is Zito isn't going to a home-run friendly park.  For a guy who has a career FB% of 43%, you don't want to be keeping him at a home-run happy ballpark.  AT&T Park is not a home-run happy ballpark, and has suppressed home-run production more than McAfee Coliseum over the past few seasons.  Combine that with the fact the National League is still inferior to the American League and there are a couple of glaring positives in this deal, at least for the short-term.

Last, but not least, I'll look at a fun little tool:  Similarity Scores from Baseball Reference.  Similarity Scores try to forecast a player's future based on comparable players.  Here a Barry Zito's Similarity Scores though his current age of 28:

  1.  Mike Hampton (963)
  2.  Ramon Martinez (960)
  3.  Ray Culp (956)
  4.  Johnny Podres (956)
  5.  Mickey Lolich (954)
  6.  Tom Glavine (950)
  7.  Juan Pizarro (949)
  8.  Ron Darling (949)
  9.  Kevin Appier (944)
  10.  Jack McDowell (939)

Nothing here is set in stone, these just try to forecast the future of major league players.  But when you're #1 comparable player is Mike Hampton, it would seem reasonable for Giants fans to draw some concern about the future of Barry Zito.

Seven years is simply insane.  Even though most knowledgeable baseball fans knew Zito would sign a long-term contract for a boatload of cash, it's still insane.  Zito, at 28 years old, poses as a peripheral declining pitcher, and once he starts getting older, things could certainly get worse.

ZiPS recently released their 2007 projection for Barry Zito and I feel it is very reasonable:

We all knew Zito was going to get this type of deal.  Whether it was from the Mets, Mariners, Rangers, or these Giants, it was reasonable to infer Zito was going to strike gold come winter time.  

But I can't help but feel this deal is a bit much on the Giants part.  Zito isn't an ace anymore and was paid ace-type cash. Sure, he hasn't missed a major league start due to injury, should age fairly well due to his athleticism, and was quite possibly the most inciting pitcher on the free agent market, but investing your future in a guy like Zito is a risky one.

In my opinion, I think the Giants should have made a harder run at re-signing Jason Schmidt rather than signing Barry Zito, or any free agent pitcher for that matter, to a 7-year contract.