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October 19, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLCS Game Five Recap: Giants 5, Cardinals 0

by Sam Miller

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Guess the MLB.com headline!

a. Giants Don't Feel Blue, Barry 
b. Zito's 'A' Game Sets The Curve 
c. Zzzito Lulls Cards To Sleep 
d. 'Zen'ding A Message
e. Neato Zito Keeps Giants Alive

These are terrible. They're all terrible because one of them (a terrible one!) is terribly real.

***

If the Giants win the World Series this year, it will be because Barry Zito pitched Game Five of the NLCS and pitched wonderfully. Sure, he was paid a billion dollars and had been terrible in his previous postseason start and had spent the previous six years acting like the mole in The Mole, but whatever. If the Giants win the World Series this year, it will be because of Barry Zito, and you know what? Maybe it’ll have all been worth it (as long as "it" doesn't literally mean "all the money he was paid). 

It took a long time for Zito to have a signature moment as a Giant. He’s had opportunities, and he’s had some decent stretches, and he’s not—well, okay, I was going to say he’s not Mike Hampton, but Zito has produced 1.6 WARP as a Giant and Hampton produced 10.4 WARP during his eight-year contract, so never mind. Anyway, I can’t think of one spectacular Zito moment in his time as a Giant. Is there one? Here are, before tonight, what I would call his 10 most important starts as a Giant. Let’s see how he did in them:

10. Opening Day, 2007. To understand how much Barry Zito meant to the Giants, you have to understand this: they almost signed Carlos Lee for more than $100 million that offseason. Not only did Barry Zito have to live up to a huge contract, but he had to replace the value that the Giants would have received from Carlos Lee. Carlos Lee!
How he did: Five innings, three runs, two strikeouts, and two walks. Loss.
Key moment: Walked Jose Cruz, Jr. with the bases loaded—the first of 17 times he would walk in a run as a Giant.

9. April 8, 2007. The first time Zito faced the Dodgers. Chad Billingsley came into the game as a reliever. Barry Zito has been a Giant for so long, guys.
How he did: Six innings, eight runs, four strikeouts, and three walks. Loss.
Key moment: Wilson Valdez knocked in two runs with a triple to nearly knock Zito out of the game. Valdez drove in seven runs that season.

8. April 3, 2011. The Giants were able to win the World Series without Zito on the postseason roster, but a team can’t go a whole season with only four starters; they needed Zito to step up for the 2011 season. He pitched the fourth game of the year against the Dodgers in a sold-out Dodger Stadium.
How he did: Six innings, three runs, five strikeouts, and two walks. No decision, Giants loss.
Key moment: After a single by Rafael Furcal and a triple by Jamey Carroll, Zito allowed a home run by Matt Kemp to put the Giants behind 3-0. Zito retired the next 15 batters he faced.

7. September 25, 2010. The Giants were a half-game up in the NL West with a week left in the season; the Rockies were hanging in at 3 1/2 games back. The Giants went to Colorado.
How he did: 4 1/3 innings, four runs, three walks, and four strikeouts. No decision. Giants loss.
Key moment: Back-to-back triples in the fifth; Zito knocked out of the game.

6. July 28, 2012. The Giants were two games up on the Dodgers as the trade deadline approached; the Giants had just added Marco Scutaro and the Dodgers had just added Hanley Ramirez, and there were plenty more trade rumors around each team.
How he did: 5 1/3 innings, four runs, a walk, and four strikeouts. Loss. (It was the second-to-last game the Giants would ever lose with Zito pitching.)
Key moment: Matt Kemp homered. Matt Kemp versus Barry Zito in his career: .436/.508/.655 in 63 plate appearances.

5. September 5, 2009. The Giants hadn’t made the postseason since 2003, not entirely because of Barry Zito but not exactly in spite of him either. In September, however, they were 3 1/2 games behind the Rockies for the Wild Card.
How he did: Struck out nine, walked one, and allowed two runs as the Giants blew out Ubaldo Jimenez and moved to within 2 1/2 games. Win.
Key moment: Not a single moment, but Zito struck out Todd Helton looking three times, including in the first with a runner in scoring position.

4. Opening Day, 2008. You might not remember this, but Zito wasn’t the worst in his first season with the Giants. He wasn’t great, but it would take about five years before he would become the worst. In his first season (2007), he had a 99 ERA+. The rest of the staff wasn’t bad, but Matt Cain (team leader in WARP) had a 7-16 record, and Tim Lincecum was a rookie who made just 24 starts. So, the next year, Zito got the Opening Day start against the Dodgers.
How he did: Zito allowed four runs and got two swinging strikes in five innings. Loss.
Key moment: First-inning home run by Jeff Kent (the worst) to put the Dodgers up 3-0.

3. NLDS Game Four, 2012. Zito's first postseason appearance as a Giant. He entered with a 3.24 career postseason ERA in seven starts.
How he did: Didn't make it out of the third. No decision. Giants win. 
Key moment: Walked three straight batters in the first inning, forcing in one run. 

2. In the 161st game of the year, with the Giants leading the Padres by two games and needing only one win, Zito got the start at home. Oh, boy, were there a lot of people who didn’t want Zito to get that start, but Zito got that start.
How he did: He walked in two runs in the first inning and was pulled after allowing four runs in three innings. Loss.
Key moment: Zito walked the pitcher to lead off the fourth inning and was replaced by Chris Ray.

1. This one, right here, the one he just won. Haters.
Key moment: You hating... and sucking it, hater.

So in his 10 biggest games: Six runs per nine innings, 1-5, Giants go 3-7. Whatever, none of that matters now, as long as the Giants win a World Series this year. Otherwise, he remains a miserable disaster. 

***

A few notable responses: 

 
 
 
***
Headline answer: 
 

Congratulations. We're all miserable now. 

 

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

10 comments have been left for this article.

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