The final pitch of the 2013 will mark the end of an era in Giants baseball, the era of Barry Zito.
Riding on his early career success (mainly his first three seasons seasons, as these graphs would suggest if you cut off his first 3 seasons), the Giants signed Zito to a 7-year, $126 million deal with a vesting option for 2014 ($18 million, option vests with 200 innings pitched (IP) in 2013 or 400 IP in 2012-2013 or 600IP in 2011-13.
If his 2014 option vests, Zito may opt out and receive a $3.5mil buyout). Assuming the Giants keep Zito under 200 innings this year (he pitched 184 in 2012), Zito will be a free agent at the end of the season.
With Tim Lincecum’s contract expiring and Ryan Vogelsong with an option available, the Giants must decide whether to keep Zito or not. And the answer is simply no.
Zito will turn 36 next season. While youth isn’t everything, age has not been kind to Zito. The velocity on his fastball has been steadily decreasing in his time with the Giants (last hovering a tad under 84 mph), and while early in his career Zito was a fastball/change/curve pitcher, last year he relied heavily on his cutter (throwing it almost 23% of the time last year compared to a previous career high of 5%).
Although Zito is known for his curveball, most of his early career success came from his change-up. During his days with the A’s his change was worth an average of 1.8 runs per 100 pitches (and almost 10 runs above average), meaning that Zito’s pitching would theoretically add almost two runs to his team’s score per game.
Comparing that to his last three seasons with the Giants, where his change-up has been worth, on average, -1.0 runs per 100 pitches. This can most certainly be attributed to the loss of velocity on the fastball which in turn may be the reason why he relied so heavily on the cutter in 2012.
What this tells us is you have a pitcher who is losing velocity, has lost the effectiveness of their best pitch, and is relying on throwing a pitch that until last year he threw on average only 30 times in a season. He is also on the wrong side of 30 and is nearing the end of his career. With Zito’s salary off the books (and possibly Lincecum’s as well), the Giants will be free to pursue some of the better talent in free agency next year (how does Robinson Cano sound?) and can replace Zito’s performance with better options from free agency or the farm.