Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Zito = Zero

I'm watching the matchup of Zito vs. Webb and it's not pretty. Sure, the score is 2-1 Snakes but it won't be for long, in all likelihood (edit: Byrnes just hit a ground-rule double to center to make it 3-1 and a flare to center right after makes it 4-1. Zito gets saved by an amazing diving catch by Velez to end the inning). Webb is nasty as usual; his sinker is one of the dirties pitches I've ever seen. It almost looks like a breaking ball. It falls vertically a ton and he creates separation from his actual breaking pitches by about 5-8 mph, which for him is plenty. It's different from Wang's because it's a bit slower but seems to break farther. I'll do a bit of looking at Pitch f-x later to see if that's actually true.

Anyhow, this post is about the corpse of Barry Zito. Not so long ago, he was a Cy Young caliber pitcher. He was in the low 90's with his fastball, had good command, and could throw a devastating 12-6 curveball for strikes or bury it out of the zone at will. He also had a decent changeup.

Today, his fastball topped out at around 85 mph and he had little control of it. Early in the game, he was missing up in the zone with his fastball and occasionally left his change up in the zone as well. His curveball looked fine, freezing a few batters and inducing some harmless pop-ups as guys went chasing it down. However, it is less effective now because he is usually behind in the count so guys can simply take the pitch and wait for a better offering. Also, it was not being called a strike with any regularity so Zito had to look elsewhere to get ahead.

His mechanics looked fine to me. He strides well, gets his body under him, and keeps his head steady. He firms up his glove side well and doesn't seem to do anything funky with his arm action. The ball simply has no life to it.

I have no idea if he's hurt. It doesn't seem like he is, to be honest. His velocity simply vanished. I have heard that pitchers can lose velocity if their tendons and ligaments get stretched out over time. Sometimes Tommy John's surgery can help correct that because the new ligament is tighter. That may be the cause of Zito's velocity loss but his loss of command and control is even more puzzling. He simply cannot succeed, even in the NL, without velocity and/or plus command and control.

The Zito contract was a mistake when it was made. However, it looks even worse now that the Giants are clearly the worst team in the majors. It would be virtually impossible to trade Zito without swallowing nearly all of his contract. Meanwhile, he is averaging $18 million a year for a team with a payroll around $77 million. That's over 23% of their total payroll going to one player who is now significantly below average.

Now, tell me again why Brian Sabean has a job? Anyone?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Notes on Pitchers

I watched a few games today and had the following thoughts:

1) Greg Maddux really knows how to pitch. There is a great piece on today about him that I heartily recommend. It's a bit fanboyish but there is no denying his brilliance. He is always going to be dependent on his defense at this stage of his career but if there is a pitcher who can defy the odds and keep his BABIP down, it's Maddux. Sure, Khalil Greene (or Blondie, to my girlfriend) helped him out by robbing Martin of a base hit on a ball to his glove side, but give credit to Mad Dog. At this rate, the guy could pitch for another five years and win at least ten games a year.

2) Chad Billingsley has nasty, nasty stuff. He struggled to put away San Diego hitters but his curveball had good bite and he was locating his fastball well. His early season problems might be over so if you're a Dodgers fan, the future looks bright in your rotation. If you play fantasy, see if you can buy him low. You won't be disappointed.

3) Tim Lincecum is unique and thoroughly entertaining to watch. The kid is small, five foot eleven on his baseball card (but I think that's being mighty generous), but brings serious heat. His delivery is unorthodox to say the least but it does seem to get him tremendous hip rotation and brings all of his body weight toward home plate. So while it may seem that he's putting considerable effort into generating velocity, that effort is spread out very well throughout his entire body. I wouldn't recommend trying that delivery but if you're a small guy and can't throw over 85 mph, maybe give it a shot. Though you will want to strengthen your lower back before you try. Trust me on that one.

4) Wandy Rodriguez is a strange, strange pitcher. He is also the Ervin Santana of the National league. The guy can't pitch at all away from home but when he's in his home stadium, he's lights out. I can't see any rational reason why this would happen but it's a real phenomenon. The same goes for Ervin Santana. I hope neither of these ever gets traded. I wonder if their managers might start them only at home and rearrange everything else around that. It would be a bit silly but there's a large enough sample size for these guys that it might be reasonable.

Dice vs. Lizard

I love watching Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch. The guy has a hilarious delivery, like a combination of pitching and belly dancing. Plus, it's Daisuke vs. Matsui, Godzilla vs. Mothra (or something along those lines). Both pitchers have shown control problems early in the game; Daisuke wiggled out of it but Hughes let up three runs. Suck.

One things I've noticed about Hughes is that he seems wary to throw his change-up or slider. While his fastball and curveball are plus, a starter must have more weapons. He did throw an ok change-up to Varitek but Molina had to talk him into it. It's obvious that Hughes is going to be a very good pitcher; his fastball has good life and his curveball can be downright nasty. But unless he refines his control AND starts mixing in more pitches, even as show pitches, he's going to struggle.

Another note: Hughes has trouble throwing his curveball to his glove side. It might be a mechanical issue. Some have postulated that he changed his mechanics after his knee injury last year, causing his arm to lag slightly behind his body. That could explain his loss of fastball command and tendency to throw the curveball to his arm side. I have no idea how hard it would be to fix his mechanics or even if it would be necessary. But it might help his development in the long run even if it takes a little time in the minors.