Zito Thoughts, Part 1 of 3

I’m not a Giants hater like a lot of A’s fans. I’ll never leave my heart in AT&T Park, but if the Giants have an interesting team, I’ll watch and root for them. If not, I’ll ignore them.

The past several years, I’ve been doing a lot of ignoring. Watching a bunch of has-been and never-was old farts play .500 ball doesn’t turn me on. Nor does watching Barry Bonds take four pitches out of the strike zone over and over again.

In recent years, the Giants have had only two players I’ve enjoyed watching–Jason Schmidt and Omar Vizquel. Oh man, I could sit and watch Omar Vizquel play shortstop for hours on end. If we judged players solely by their artistry instead of their statisticry, Omar Vizquel would be the first guy voted in the Hall of Fame. He is lovely to watch.

So I’m actually pretty happy that Barry Zito signed with San Francisco. I love watching Zito pitch, and I’m happy that Giants games have immediately become a little more watchable every five days. Of course, Zito is replacing Schmidt, another player I like, so it’s only a minor improvement on the watchability scale. Ah, if only the Giants had extended Schmidt instead of signing Matt Morris…

* * *

Of course, the pundits all agree that the contract is too big, for too many years. But is it? Is there actually a plan here? There are a few points in the Giants defense:

  • How much is too much? We have absolutely no idea how much money the Giants have to spend.
  • If you’re going to give any pitcher in the world a seven-year contract in hopes he stays healthy all seven years, Barry “Never Missed A Start” Zito is probably the guy you’d want to give it to.
  • This gives the Giants a solid young pitching staff for years to come
  • .

This actually makes the Giants 2008 starting rotation look quite a bit like 2006 Oakland’s. You’ve got:

  • Zito
  • The star young flamethrower (Cain/Harden)
  • Another hard thrower (Lincecum/Haren)
  • A crafty young inning eater (Lowry/Blanton)
  • A crafty old inning eater (Morris/Loaiza)

Given that the Giants need to totally rebuild their team over the next few years, and have pretty much an empty farm system, what better way than to start by setting up a young, solid starting rotation? You can build a bullpen out of scrap, and probably find decent hitters under rocks, but good, young starting pitchers are really hard to find.

Now if Brian Sabean can take these old farts currently in his everyday lineup, and trade them in July for younger parts–lather, rinse, repeat–I’ll really be impressed.

* * *

I know the counterarguments. Zito is not an ace. He’s good, not great, and therefore shouldn’t get ace money. The money is better spent on better players than Zito.

I agree with that conclusion about Zito: he’s not an ace. He’s good, not great. However, I disagree with nearly every argument I’ve heard, including many from writers I respect, supporting that conclusion. I’ll get to that in my next (non-photo-outtake) blog entry. Part 2 here.

Like A Ghost I’m Gonna Haunt You (2006 Photo Outtakes #19)

Ruby Baby

“I’ll be honest with you. We want to leave DJ alone and let the kid play. He’s too good a hitter and too important to the team. … We are all Dan Johnson fans.”

Said Billy Beane, as he checked his cell phone to see if Erubiel Durazo was ready to sign a minor league deal with the A’s.

Ah, I love it when Billy Beane is being honest with me.

This is the time of year where Billy Beane really shines: when all the big names have been shuffled around, and the press goes home from the Winter Meetings and go into hibernation until spring training, watching Beane pluck guys off the wires and fill in the roster at Sacramento is a blast.

Signing Durazo–who may finally be healthy for the first time in over two years (he’s currently destroying the Mexican Winter League)–would make perfect sense for the 25-man roster if the A’s hadn’t just signed Mike Piazza to DH, or if Durazo could actually play a position. Theoretically, Durazo can play first base, or even outfield (as he did in Arizona back in 2001), but OWWW MY EYES IT BURNS IT BURNS! Even the mere thought of watching Durazo in the field is torturous. Of course, they could let Durazo DH, and try Piazza at first. YEEEEEEEOOOWWWWCHH NO PLEASE STOP PLEASE MAKE IT GO AWAY!

Maybe Durazo will be improved in the field now that he is fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery. And maybe Jason Kendall will hit 20 home runs next year. We all love a happy surprise.

But really, this doesn’t change Plan A: Piazza is the everyday DH, and Dan Johnson is in an effective platoon with Bobby Kielty (Kielty in LF and Swisher at 1B vs. lefties; Swisher in LF and Johnson at 1B vs. righties). Billy Beane would never, ever lie to us, you know.

Although Durazo doesn’t really fill an immediate hole on the 25-man roster, the signing is still quite clever. Even if you have to stash Durazo at Sacramento for awhile, having him in the organization provides depth at four positions:

DH: Obviously.

First base: Painful though it may be to watch, Durazo is 1B insurance in case Johnson struggles or gets hurt.

Outfield: When Kotsay and Bradley go down with their inevitable injuries, Durazo provides more flexibility to keep Swisher in the outfield, and could maybe even be a warm body they could run out there in an emergency.

Catcher: If Kendall or Melhuse get hurt, you slide Piazza into a catching role. Durazo takes over at DH while Piazza catches.

So much upside, and very little risk. Nicely done, Mr. Beane!

2006 Photo Outtakes #17

You Can Plan On Me

Just got back from a quick family trip to Disneyland. I was on the Haunted Mansion ride when the ride got stuck. I was forced to listen to a barbership quintet of pumpkins sing the phrase “We wish you…a scary, scary Christmas” for about six minutes straight.

I thought it would never end.

“…and a haunted New Year.” *Shudder*

2006 Photo Outtakes #14

I Love A Walk

My favorite thing about Milton Bradley is that, more than any player I’ve ever seen, he seems–what’s the phrase I’m looking for?–totally psyched to draw a walk.

Huzzah for walks!

I may have left some people thinking I don’t care for walks after a recent throw-away comment I made about walking in RBI situations. Jon Weisman took me to task for it yesterday over at Dodger Thoughts.

My beliefs are a bit more subtle than that flip statement made it seem. (I explained this in more detail in the DT thread.)

It’s not that I don’t like walks in RBI situations. For a batter, a walk is always a good thing. But in some game situations, a ball in play has extra value. At those times, it’s nice to have a good contact hitter at the plate. The A’s haven’t had many good contact hitters over the years, so Jay Payton was a refreshing change. That doesn’t necessarily make him a better player, overall, but the contrast with the recent past helped me enjoy Payton’s tenure in Oakland.

2006 Photo Outtakes #12

Foul ball

Jay Payton has left the A’s for Baltimore. He leaves Oakland as a well-liked, if not well-loved player. He did his job, played up to expectations. The thing I liked about him is that when you needed him to put the ball in play to drive home a run, he would put the ball in play and drive home the run. It was nice change from the oh-so-frustrating draw-a-walk-in-RBI-situations days of Jeremy Giambi and Erubiel Durazo. Of course, he would rarely draw a walk in an need-to-get-on-base situation, but you can’t have everything.

We finally have a non-Mets trade rumor. Dan Haren for Jeremy Reed! One of the best pitchers in the AL for a guy who can’t hold on to his job on the worst team in the division! Thank you, John Hickey, for making stuff up, just like I asked. That was incredibly creative.

One theme seems to be emerging, however: Beane is shopping for a young center fielder. Milledge, Reed…he’s looking to replace Kotsay, who (a) is a free agent after next season, (b) had his full no-trade clause expire after the 2006 season, and (c) has, by the numbers, suffered a severe drop in defensive range over the past two seasons. Kotsay may have a better reputation right now than actual value, which means Beane should probably trade him if he can. But first, he needs someone to play center in 2007, because Payton is gone, and Milton Bradley can’t be trusted to stay healthy. (Neither can Kotsay, for that matter.)

Still, two rumors isn’t enough for me, so I’ll make up a rumor right now: Billy Beane has a deal in place to trade Mark Kotsay to the Chicago White Sox for Gio Gonzalez and another prospect, but it won’t happen until and unless Beane can find another centerfielder from elsewhere.

Oooh, doesn’t that just sound tantalizingly plausible, even though I pulled it out of my ????

In Which I Take Back What I Said Yesterday

Here are two players’ career pitching stats. Both players were 27 years old last season.

IP     SO    BB    ERA   WHIP   ERA+
Player A   815.3  575   363   4.65   1.44    96
Player B   798.0  507   280   4.79   1.46    97

Player A has more strikeouts, but also more walks. Now if I told you that Player A spent his entire career in one of the best pitchers parks in baseball, and Player B spent almost two years pitching in Coors Field, which player would you say is better?

I dunno either. Seems to me that they’re pretty much the same guy. Except perhaps that Player A is right-handed, and a free agent, and Player B is left-handed, and has a year left before free agency.

Player A just signed a five-year contract for $55 million. Player A is Gil Meche. Player B is Joe Kennedy.

Yesterday, I objected to placing Kennedy in the rotation. Obviously, I’m an idiot, and Billy Beane is a genius. The A’s have a pitcher worth $55 million! You don’t waste pitchers worth $55 million (even if you’re only paying them about $4 million) by having them get a couple of outs in the sixth inning every few days. You get every penny of your $55 million worth, and pitch them as many innings as possible!

Sheesh. What was I thinking?