Has Barry Zito Earned His $126 Million Contract?

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April 05, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito (75) pitches the ball against the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit, Kelley L. Cox-USA Today Sports

In today’s day and age in terms of mega-deals and blockbuster signings, to the casual baseball fan, it would seem quite easy to peg Barry Zito’s tenure with the Giants as an overall flop. In his first five years in San Francisco, the former Athletic was 43-61 with his current club, failing to have a single winning season or post an ERA under 4.00.

In fact, the only semi-decent season he had during that span was in 2009, where he went 10-13 – which is saying something if a losing record is semi-decent. Over 33 games started (including a complete game), this is a far cry from where he was just a season prior across the Bay when the 2002 American League Cy Young award winner went 16-10 and was an All-Star for the second time in his (then) impressive career.

But ever since coming over to the Giants on a seven-year, $126 million contract, Zito has endured endless abuse from the Giants’ fan-base, often calling for a trade to be made; a result of him failing to even perform average at best, season after season, all the while under one of the biggest contracts ever for a pitcher at the time.  The $7 million buyout at the end of 2013 looks mighty enticing to some fans.

His first five seasons in San Francisco looked like this:

2007 –  11-13 / 4.53 ERA / 131 K’s / 196.2 IP / $10,000,000

2008 –  10-17 / 5.15 ERA / 120 K’s / 180 IP / $14,500,000

2009 –  10-13 / 4.03 ERA / 154 K’s / 192 IP / $18,500,000

2010 –    9-14 / 4.15 ERA / 150 K’s / 199.1 IP / $18,500,000

2011 –      3-4 / 5.87 ERA / 32 K’s / 53.2 IP / $18,500,000

Needless to say, the first five seasons were rough.  Most felt he was vastly overpaid for his under-performance, and more often than not, it looked as though the signing would go down as one of the worst mega-deals of all time.

Oct 24, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito runs back to the dugout after being relieved in the sixth inning during game one of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit; H. Darr Beiser, USA Today Sports.

All of that changed in 2012, however.  Following a drastically shortened 2011 due to injury, the mystery that is Barry Zito astonished everyone, and made a triumphant resurgence to baseball as one of San Francisco’s most effective arms in the rotation.  And it couldn’t have come at a better time, as Tim Lincecum’s 2012 quickly became derailed, and if not for Zito, the team probably wouldn’t have reached the playoffs.  It would have been close, but there’s no way the club would have been able to gut another sub-par season from Zito, coupled with a disastrous year from Lincecum, if they hoped to see October baseball.

Working heavily during 2011’s off-season to change his mechanics and reinvent himself, Zito found that devastating curve-ball that once made batters cringe.  With that, he was able to compensate for the fact that he just can’t throw fast anymore, and gave the Giants fifteen well-earned wins while only losing eight contests in 2012.

But last season’s turnaround was important on many levels, as his resurgence was key to his personal improvement, as well as the team’s overall success — after all, he was integral in the capturing of San Francisco’s second World Championship in three years.

So, has Zito earned his hefty contract?  Maybe not entirely, but here are some of the reasons I think he has done a pretty good job in the last year (and in some cases his entire tenure with the club) to make me lean more towards saying yes: