Saturday, May 2, 2009

Zito's Rabbit foot?

It's hard to argue with numbers... It's hard to argue with facts... It's hard to argue against Pablo Sandoval...

Heck, it has been hard to argue for Barry Zito...

So why do I find myself trying to argue with all those things?

Fact: Ever since August 18th of last fall when Pablo Sandoval gave Bengie Molina a day off and caught a Barry Zito masterpiece, the two have worked like a well oiled machine. Many people have begun to wonder if there is more to this than mere coincidence. I think the answer is as easy as Yes... and No!!!

It's no secret that Barry Zito has not performed up to the expectations that came along with his 7 year, $126 million deal. Not fans expectations, not managements expectations, and certainly not his own expectations. So after a little more than 1.5 seasons with the Giants, why did Zito suddenly find a groove that coincided with a catcher change?

The stats don't lie, the simple facts of them...

From the beginning of 2007 thru his August 13th, 2008 start, Zito was caught by Bengie Molina and a few different reserves with similar results. Since then, he has been caught 7 times by one Pablo Sandoval and the results are unquestionably great.

In those 7 starts, the Giants are a perfect 7-0, with Zito going 3-0, in 47Inn, with 37H, 16R, 15ER, 18BB, 30K, 2.87 ERA, 1.67 K/BB, 1.17 WHIP, 5.75 K/9

In the other 62 games he has pitched, the Giants are 22-40, with Zito going 18-32, in 352Inn, with 353H, 217R, 200ER, 176BB, 236K, 5.11 ERA, 1.34 K/BB, 1.50 WHIP, 6.03 K/9

There has to be more than mere coincidence...

Many pitchers over the years have used personal catchers. Most great pitchers will say there is just something to the feel of specific catchers. Pitchers work on rhythm & feel. When they aren't in sync,they don't perform.Some pitchers have to keep a certain pace, some like it fast, some slow. Hitters are constantly trying to throw that rhythm off. Barry Zito had a personal catcher before, Jason Kendall, it just worked that he was the everyday catcher for the A's. Others have done it too.

Tim Wakefield found Doug Mirabelli was the best for his knuckleball. Zito's teammate Randy Johnson used John Flaherty one season. Greg Maddux used a few over the years, Henry Blanko, Paul Bako, & Eddie Perez. Steve Carlton employed Tim McCarver specifically for 4 consecutive years, from 1976-1979. In fact, Carlton, Maddux, & Smoltz all won Cy Youngs with Catchers who would later be a personal catcher. In 1977 Carlton one a Cy Young with his personal catcher. Check out this Baseball Prospectus article from 2006.

So maybe there is more to the Zito/Sandoval battery than pure luck... But I also find it hard to argue against Zito's drive to be great again, his will to bounce back, his refocus on his game.

Zito went into this offseason with a commitment to get better, to make a change. He moved in with his BFF Brian Wilson, a renowned workout nut, to try a different tactic. Zito had always been a "core" guy and mental toughness when it came to his focus. Wilson changed him into an all around physical guy, focusing more on his legs and upper body, as well as his core, than ever before. One way to put it in perspective, in under 3 months, Zito went from 2 pull ups to 19. This workout program is already showing it's effects.

Last year, Barry Zito was pitching in the low to mid 80's, really his fastball was topping out around 82-83 on good days. The last few games, Zito has hit 90 at times and has been around 87-88. It's still not his old 92-94, but it is still early. He has never been an early season guy, with very little success coming in April, yet so far, April of 2009 has been his best since 2003. Don't believe me, has the monthly splits here.

The fact is, Barry Zito is in shape and focused. He is still a good pitcher and could very well be back on track. It is still early, but I think we are seeing the beginning of something special. Whether or not Pablo Sandoval has more to do with it than Zito himself is debatable, but it's hard to argue the facts. I tell you this much, I hope Sandoval catches every Zito start for the foreseeable future.

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