SCOTTSDALE—Spring training is the time of the year when every player is poised to have the best season of his career, his breakthrough season or his comeback season. Yes, things always look a little bit brighter under the sunny skies of Arizona and Florida.
With that in mind, it is hard to know exactly what it means that the Giants are raving about how left-hander Barry Zito has in the Cactus League games.
I hate using spring training stats because of the small sample size and the fact that the level of competition a team faces can vary wildly form one exhibition game to the next. Nevertheless, since we must, here is Zito's aggregate line through three Cactus League appearances:
Not spectacular numbers, to be sure, but both Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti both say the Zito has looked better than any point since signing his seven-year, $126 million albatross contract in free agency during the 2006-07 offseason. Of course, it would hard to look worse considering Zito was worth just 5.5 WARP during his first four seasons with the Giants and was left off the roster for all three post-season rounds last year when they won their first World Series in 58 years.
Zito has had only one truly big season in his 11-year career, posting 5.8 WARP for the Athletics in 2002. However, he did average 3.3 WARP a year during his seven seasons with the A's, a mark he hasn't reached once with the Giants. Zito, though, talks as if he has regained a magical formula at age 32.
"This is the best I've felt on the mound in a long time, especially from a mental standpoint," Zito said. "It feels like the game has slowed down again. I don't feel my pulse racing if I get behind in the count or get into a jam. I just keep having a nice, relaxed feeling. It's good to feel that way again."
There was talk early in spring training that the Giants would release Zito if he didn't have a good showing in Cactus League. While Giants manager Bruce Bochy downplayed the idea of that ever being the case, he is pleased what he has seen of Zito this spring.
"He's thrown the ball very well," Bochy said. "The thing about Barry is he's always given the effort. That hasn't been the problem. Despite everything that's been written and said about him and his contract, he has always been a professional and done nothing but give his all. That counts for something."
True, though not for $126 million. Thus, it is easy to cast a jaundiced eye on Zito's spring performances until he carries through for six more months starting in April.
"I feel really good," Zito insists. "I'm in a good place."