This is the first contribution by PJ, a new addition to the Dodgerhater staff...
How Zito can “catch” a break
If we are to reach the playoffs this season, every game counts.
We all know what we’ll get out of Timmy and Matt every five days, but the enigma known as Barry Zito continues to haunt us.
Despite his three strong outings to open the second half of the season, we cannot predict whether he will be the Zito yesteryear-- or even yesterday for that matter-- or a complete disaster.
On Sunday, he was very good. He gave us a chance to win while dealing with an extremely difficult order— arguably the strongest in baseball with the defending champion Phillies in town. He also walked nary a batter.
His battery mate? Eli Whiteside. More on that later.
His last start versus Pittsburgh, which inspired me to write this, was vintage Zito. He repeatedly gave us flashes of why we signed him to the most ridiculous albatross of a contract in the history of the earth. Even though his WHIP was a little inflated, he was able to battle and escape while still giving the Giants a chance to win.
More importantly, he managed to do it with Bengie Molina behind the plate.
As a former pitcher, I have always been intrigued by the impact that pitcher-catcher relationships have on performance and outcomes. Battery mates must be on the same page, and communication is of the utmost importance. The way a catcher frames a curveball can be the difference between a ball and a strike. This can even have an effect on a pitcher’s confidence to throw a certain pitch.
The nuances and tendencies of a particular backstop can mean everything.
Barry Zito is a fragile dude. Watching games earlier in the year, I noticed a huge discrepancy in how he would pitch from start to start. The difference was his comfort level.
Sure, maybe it was the bickram yoga, but I did some research to find out. There were very few discrepancies between Zito's home/road, day/night, and even right/left splits. What I did find though, was shocking.
I compared the breakdown of how Zito threw to each of the Giants' four catchers:
(Click here if you do not see the spreadsheet.)
The only statistic that is in Bengie’s favor is the increased strikeouts (good thing too, Zito has declined in strikeouts in each of the past 3 years). The quality start (QS) statistic (minimum 6 IP, 3 or less ER) is a great indication of how much better he has pitched to catchers not named Molina.
Could this just be a coincidence? Certainly. But the statistics don’t lie.
If you want to point to strength of opponent, you wouldn’t get very far in my book. 2 of Zito’s 3 starts against the Dodgers have come without Bengie behind the dish.
So what can we do?
Well first off, it’s not unheard of for starting pitchers to have their own personal catcher. Eddie Perez and Paul Bako had a career 60 home runs between them, but that didn’t stop Greg Maddux from sending offensive catcher Javy Lopez to the pine every fifth day. Knuckleball pitchers have also been known to require a “special” catcher. Doug Mirabelli and Tim Wakefield come to mind.
My question is this: Is Bengie’s bat a big enough difference maker to keep him in the lineup if its presence comes at the expense of an extra 2.5+ runs on Zito’s ERA?
Certainly, with these kinds of numbers at our disposal, we can see that Bengie Mo and his disappointing offensive dropoff would not be beneficial during Zito's starts. Despite Molina's abilities, he is only hurting the Giants while catching Zito.
The man needs a game off every week anyway. It only makes sense that Bochy needs to make sure that Ol' Eli Whiteside is back there when our favorite $126 million dollar man is on the mound.
And say what you will about the aptly named Whiteside, but if he hasn't proven to you that he's a major league receiver, just ask Jonathan Sanchez how he feels about it.
This brings another issue to the table:
What if Zito doesn't click with Posey? Certainly Posey's bat cannot come out of the lineup.
Certainly Barry will be around here for years to come, as his contract is all but unmovable. The question arises in my mind whether Posey should make a major league appearance to gauge his comfort with the pitching staff-- and the staff with him.
It appears that Molina will not return to the Giants next season, and although he's been great, and I love him, he is simply not in the plans.
Posey can certainly hit in the bigs, but he's still working on his game management skills in Fresno, and is probably not quite ready to call his own games at the big league level.
If Posey is deemed unready for the bigs in early 2010, what is the best course of action? Sign a free agent catcher to split time with Whiteside or Holm? Give Sandoval more looks back there a few games a week?
It is an interesting quandary.
Let's just hope Zito is comfortable with whoever he's throwing to, because it obviously matters, and we need him throwing strikes out there if we want to secure that Wild Card spot.