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Unpopular Opinions Revisited: Topic 1 - Zito Overrated?

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Back on Thursday, September 21, Turn Two opened up an excellent diary that was as thought-provoking as it was controversial. It was short, sweet and very interesting because it got people to say a lot of things that they might've never said otherwise like, "What's so special about Bill King?" and "Macha for manager of the year." I even have a few of my own, like I find Kenny Rogers postseason yelling and fist-pumping annoying and they have done nothing to make me think that he's gotten over his anger issues and the only person more inept at baseball analysis than Joe Morgan is Eric Byrnes.

So Nico, baseballgirl and myself will be delving into these issues this offseason when news isn't breaking (the A's offseasons are ALWAYS interesting) and we aren't handing out grades for 2006. The first one is mine because I wanted it. It's a topic that's relevant because Barry Zito is still an A's pitcher for, oh, about another week. Then he and Scott Boras are going to hijack an empty Brinks truck and do their tour of America, probably starting in Southern California.

Is Barry Zito overrated? I think the best way to tackle an issue like this is to look at what people mean when they use the term "overrated." Overrated is a completely subjective topic so to me it's all about how other baseball fans (non-A's fans) view Zito. I would argue that most people who follow the A's closely would claim that Zito isn't an "ace." He's not in the same class as a Johan Santana or a Roy Halladay. Zito is a strong supporting pitcher who can make your team better mostly through his durability. Yes, he puts up good numbers overall, but he also has the tendency of throwing batting practice on occasion. Or just severely lacking control. And I think the right approach can more often than not expose his inability to following his Fearless in the Zone motto. Plus, Zito is hugely dependent on an ump who likes to call the curve. You don't say, well if Santana doesn't have an ump willing to call the change up, he's going to get battered. But that's how you feel when Zito takes the mound.

Listen, I know Zito started 34 games this year and had what you'd call "bad starts" (five earned runs or seven innings or less) about eight times. That's about 24 percent of the time. Johan Santana started 34 games this year. How many of these "bad starts" did he have? One. Yeah, that's right. And I know it's unfair to compare him to the guy who will likely win the Cy Young this year. Then how about Roy Halladay? Halladay made 32 starts this year and had exactly two bad starts. A bad start isn't something that is official, but it's something that I like to use to judge a pitcher. Part of it might have been Macha sticking with Zito too long at times this year in trying to make him into that "ace." So is it fair to compare Zito with those two pitchers?

The fact remains is that many people hold Zito in that high esteem. It may not be the people in Oakland who see Zito on a daily basis, but when I talk with people who don't follow the A's daily, they're always asking if I think Zito will sign with their team in the offseason. Whether it's Rangers fans, Dodger fans, Red Sox fans or Yankee fans, they all think that Zito can be that missing "ace" on their team. They all want him to be their number one starter. But soon they will find that they have a pitcher who claims that he was trying to be too fine in the zone and not being aggressive enough when he gets smacked around.

It's tough for me to say because Barry Zito was one of my favorites during his time wearing the green and gold. But I think if you're going to look at Zito through the eyes of the overall baseball community compared to those who know him best (A's fans) I would say, yes, Barry Zito is overrated. That doesn't mean that he wasn't a good pitcher who was at times great (Yankees playoff series, for example). Ultimately, Zito was a good, durable pitcher who occasionally got rocked. The A's will miss him dearly in 2007, but more for his durability and reliability to take the ball and pitch every fifth day. And yeah, he gives you a good start 75 percent of the time. He does have a Cy Young, but I think that's part of what led to the current moniker that he's labeled with as he departs Oakland. Overrated.

Any way, I leave you with that as I'm heading out on vacation to visit family this week and won't be back until November 1. I leave you in the very capable hands of baseballgirl and Nico.