And so it’s come to this. On September 2, Barry Zito allowed four runs in a four-inning start. Shortly thereafter, he was sent back to the bullpen. He hasn’t pitched since. Really, there’s no reason for him to pitch from this point forward, but he might still get one last turn, maybe to rest some arms, maybe additionally in a show of respect to a veteran who was at least always a good sport. This is how the Zito contract ends. Or, probably ends — MLB.com refuses to just outright state the obvious.
Zito’s days as a Giant are likely coming to an end. His seven-year, $126 million contract ends with this season. The Giants almost surely will decline to pay him an $18 million option. Zito then would get a $7 million buyout. The left-hander is 4-11 with a 5.91 ERA and has twice been removed from the rotation.
Zito’s club option is almost as comical as the old Vernon Wells opt-out clause. It’s an enduring reminder that someone once thought Zito could be highly effective through 2013. Zito wasn’t even all that good when he finished up in Oakland, and he never had much of a margin of error. Since then, he’s only declined further, and now one wonders what he’ll be doing half a year from now. But decline aside, I thought it’d be fun to review Zito’s fastest pitches from the 2013 season. Zito has famously long been something of a junk-baller, but he never did away with his heater completely. One always needs at least the threat of a fastball, and you establish a threat by throwing it. So, below, I’ve prepared a list, showing Zito’s top ten pitches from 2013 that registered at least 86 miles per hour.
Batter: Jose Bautista
Date: May 14
Velocity: 86.1 miles per hour
With his first pitch to Bautista in the bottom of the sixth, Zito went upstairs and blew a heater by one of the game’s better bats. Bautista’s a power hitter who loves to pull the ball, and against a soft-tossing lefty like Zito it stood to reason Bautista would be aggressive, so Zito played off that and got himself ahead in the count. Bautista took a mighty hack, but he swung underneath the ball, pausing afterward to consider what just took place.
And that’s it. Thank you for reading my top-ten list. According to PITCHf/x, Barry Zito has thrown one pitch this season that reached 86 miles per hour out of the hand. The next-fastest pitch came in at 85.6. The pitch to Bautista did manage to generate a swinging strike, but it also seems like Zito badly missed his spot and wound up almost in the danger zone. Bautista singled on the next pitch, and Zito was pulled, and he finished having allowed 12 hits and eight runs in 5.2 innings. It wasn’t a great day for Barry Zito. Great days for Barry Zito have been fewer and further between.
Mariano Rivera is 43 years old, and no matter what happens with the Yankees, he’s not more than a few weeks away from the end of his big-league career. Even now, he’s still successful with the same approach as always — with Rivera, it’s just cutter on the edge after cutter on the edge after cutter on the edge. Excluding intentional balls, Rivera’s slowest pitch in 2013 was faster than Zito’s fastest pitch. Zito’s barely cracked 86. Rivera’s barely sunk below 88.
It’s not hard to observe Zito’s velocity decline, and indeed it’s made evident right there on his FanGraphs player page. But here’s an alternate look at it — the percent of Zito’s pitches reaching 86 ticks, by year: