Barry Zito: A Key Component to the A's Staff

Barry Zito was the losing pitcher in Game 5 of the ALDS and for the first time in his career, he has had to endure the same season-ending disappointment that Mark Mulder felt the prior two years, and Gil Heredia did in 2000. An off-season that could have been easily spent questioning the pitch thrown to Boston's Manny Ramirez, but rehashing the past is not what Zito is all about. He pitches like he lives his life -- cherishing the good things and striving to improve on the bad things.

How would you react if you lost an elimination game? Certainly not the way Barry Zito did. The very first thing he did in the off-season was make a guest appearance on the TV show, JAG. After that, it was back to work for Zito; he arrived in camp and promptly declared that in this past off-season, he put himself through the most rigorous program ever of his career. Zito in 2003 was the same pitcher he was in 2002, without the 23 wins of course, he won only 14 games, which on the surface would suggest a downward trend. His strikeout numbers also dropped from 182 K's in 2002 to 146 K's in 2003, and his ERA jumped from 2.75 to 3.30. On the other hand, his WHIP and BAA did not change significantly and he gave up less HRs and had a total of four CGs, compared to only one CG during his 2002 Cy Young Award winning campaign. Basically, Zito was a hard luck pitcher last year, all the breaks he got in 2002, did not go his way get in 2003.

The A's hope Zito can continue to lead them to the playoffs along with his "Big Three" teammates, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson along with newly acquired Mark Redman from the world champion Florida Marlins and hard throwing sophomore Rich Harden. Oakland having one of the deepest starting rotations in the majors, have three pitchers capable of pitching over 230 innings each and with a revamped bullpen of additional arms, it will relieve a lot of pressure on Harden. Provided he can remain consistent in his approach, Zito remains the key to everything, especially since Mulder and Hudson are coming off a 2003 season plagued by injuries. If Zito can continue to remain relatively healthy, he should continue to eat up innings for second year manager, Ken Macha.

If there has been one knock on Barry Zito it has been his inability to put hitters away, his concentration has always been questioned regarding pitch selection. He allowed a .243 BAA when ahead in the count 0-1, compared with 2002, when he allowed a staggering .214 BAA. Zito also struggles at times when throwing first strikes to batters, which leads to HRs. He gave up 12 HR's after falling behind a hitter 1-0 in the count in 2003. Throwing first pitch strike is fairly elementary, but Zito's stuff is so good he can often get away with it; with a career ERA of 3.12 it is hard to find faults in his game. But if he were to improve in any area it would have to be getting that first strike into the strike zone.

Barry Zito has a chance to be an all time great for the A's but he must learn to get ahead of batters and finish them off when he has the chance. The more he nibbles, the more he will struggle. As great as having former catcher Ramon Hernandez last year was, having a veteran like Damien Miller giving him the signs should help elevate Barry Zito's game to the next level.

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