Has Zito outperformed his contract?

Kruk, Kuip, Jon & Dave dish out their players of the game

Has Zito outperformed his contract?
April 5, 2013, 5:30 pm
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At no point did he try to overthrow, or overthink, the task.
—Ray Ratto on Barry Zito

Well, we now know two new things about the San Francisco Giants.

One, Barry Zito is now fully forgiven for the first $80 million. Call it a bonus for recent services rendered if you must, or just five years of up-front money, but when you sift out his thoroughly professional behavior in the 2010 postseason, his redemptive 2012 season, and now his performance in Friday’s home opener against St. Louis, and you’ve got a guy who has outperformed his money.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants 1, Cardinals 0]

Well, outperformed the resentments about his money, anyway.

And two, the Pablo Sandoval Weight story is mostly just a cheap way of defining how he’s going at any given moment. Think of it as monetizing his value, only using pounds rather than dollars.

Today, he is very svelte indeed.

The Giants’ 1-0 win over St. Louis Friday was more Zito than Sandoval, to be sure, and in honesty home plate Dana DeMuth’s index-card strike zone contributed as much to the “1” as Zito and Sandoval did the “0.”

But the Giants must constantly redefine themselves as a tough out, especially at home, and Zito and Sandoval stood out in that category –  Zito, for his seven innings of three-hit shutout ball, and Sandoval for showing both range and quickness at third despite what will surely be a daily flurry of fat jokes.

They both helped make the 40-minute pregame ceremonies seem a little more like 37-minute pregame ceremonies, and moved the game at a properly sprightly pace. On a team in which pitching and defense still defines its ability to succeed, pace matters, and conversely, pace means nothing when a team lives off its bat rack and strike zone discernment.

Zito’s game was not complicated; he seemed to have better strike zone command than he did in the 5-0 win over the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series last October, facing more hitters and throwing fewer pitches to do so. Only one Cardinal, Allen Craig in the seventh, reached scoring position, and that only because Zito walked Matt Carpenter with two out. At no point did he try to overthrow, or overthink, the task, and having only Angel Pagan’s bases loaded walk as run support seemed to be of no consequence.

But he did have the benefit of the ballpark to envelop the few well-hit balls from Cardinal hitters, and every one of the five ground balls went at Sandoval. He turned two of them, from Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, into double plays, ranged well into foul ground to envelop a pop fly by Daniel Descalso, and dove to his left to snare a sharply hit grounder by losing pitcher Jake Westbrook.

The Giants are now 3-1, and hitting .210. They are averaging 2.25 runs per game. Their average game time is 2:41. And this is what they are likely to look like at their best – taut, well-pitched-and-defended, and quick. In fact, you almost got the sense that after the pregame show, which blended baseball tradition, the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, Freddie Mercury at his most clichéd, and the sea burial of an old admiral, the folks didn’t get enough actual baseball for their buck.

But that’s the tradeoff. The sellout crowd got its pomp and circumstance, the further purification of Barry Zito, a new appreciation for Pablo Sandoval in whatever geometric shape he happens to be at, and a reminder of how 2012 actually happened.

In all, a superior bargain to a bobblehead. But not quite as much fun as extra innings. Or for that matter, a second run.

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