The boxscore says Chris Young faced off against Barry Zito in San Diego Tuesday night, but my eyes say that it was more like a matchup that took place in a computerized fantasy simulation: this was Barry Zito 2003 vs. Zito 2006. If you’re wondering why Chris Young suddenly turned into a good pitcher this year, I think it’s because somebody gave him a copy of Barry Zito’s 2003 playbook.
Young was just baffling the A’s hitters with what looked like mediocre stuff, and I kept wondering how he was doing it, until I realized that he was following a Barry Zito gameplan circa 2003, and then I understood what he was doing. The game plan looks something like this:
- Live on three pitches: 86-88 mph four-seam fastball, a changeup, and a curveball.
- First time through the lineup: throw almost nothing but fastballs. Maybe a changeup or two. Don’t show your curveball at all.
- Pound the fastballs inside, just off the plate. Pitch higher in the strike zone than the batters are used to.
- Second time through the order, just as they start expecting the fastball, start breaking out the curve.
- Hope you can throw the curveball for strikes at this point. If you can’t, they’ll start sitting fastball, and then you’ll be lucky to make it through the order a second time.
- If you’re not sharp, don’t give in to a batter–it’s preferable to walk a bunch of guys, and refuse to give up big hits, and you’ll minimize the damage when you get into jams. Keep aiming for the corners or just off it, and eventually, you’ll throw a good pitch and get a lazy popup or a strikeout, and get out of trouble.
- Run a high pitch count so you barely make it through the sixth inning.
- Hope your team’s bullpen can hang on to the lead.
The game plan worked perfectly. Young wasn’t particularly sharp, he walked a bunch of guys, had a lot of deep counts on others, but he never gave in to a batter. The A’s never managed to get a clutch hit off him, despite numerous opportunities.
Zito used that same game plan quite often in 2003, but the scheme seemed to run out of gas in 2004. The hitters learned the pattern, and started making Zito pay for his predictability. Zito had a fairly bad year in 2004, and had to make some adjustments (learn two new pitches: slider and two-seamer) in 2005 to get the hitters off-balance again. He’s a much different (and, IMO, better) pitcher now. It will be quite interesting to see if the batters eventually adjust to Young, and if Young will have to make a similar adjustment back.
The 2006 Zito was a little bit wild today; he didn’t have sharp control, and the Padres worked a few runs off him with a couple timely hits and an unfortunate balk. On an average day, allowing just three runs would be enough to win. But on an average day, you don’t pitch against your past.