1. Got pitching? If not, your team may be in a heap of trouble if you expect to find someone to help at the front of your rotation over the next few years. This week,
In just the past 15 months, the pitchers who signed extensions that kept them off the free agent market reads like a who's who of aces:
It's 19 years of ace pitching made unavailable at a cost of $312.4 million, or an average of $16.4 million per pitcher per year.
These kinds of extensions continue to make free agency an inefficient market because they keep top pitchers off the market in their prime years. Look at the last free agent class, for example:
If clubs weren't locking up pitchers with these extensions, here is what the upcoming free agent classes would have included:
After 2010 season: Beckett, Halladay, Greinke
After 2011 season: Verlander, Hernandez, Cain, Johnson
Instead, because of the industry trend of locking up young pitching, this is what's left on the market:
After 2010 season:
After 2011 season:
In short, if you're waiting for the next
2. It may seem difficult to remember now, but
Sure, there were warning signs. His strikeout rate was trending down slightly and his walk rate was trending up. But Zito was durable, young, left-handed, a three-time All-Star and a former Cy Young winner. The Giants gave him $126 million over seven years. Sabathia and
Entering year four in San Francisco, Zito has a losing record under that contract (32-43), an ERA almost a full run higher (4.51) than what it was in Oakland, and no All-Star selections.
Now, one month before he turns 32, Zito is giving vibes that he might just be better than that -- and certainly smarter. Over these past two seasons Zito has incorporated a slider -- sort of a souped up cutter. Why? His velocity has been an issue, but so is his famous looping curveball. It's almost too good: its arc doesn't spend enough time near the strike zone to tempt hitters to swing or umpires to call it a strike. The slider is a breaking ball that for 45 feet is camouflaged as a fastball, before it moves off the barrel of the bat.
Over his past 15 starts, Zito is 6-3 with a 2.63 ERA and 7.88 strikeouts per nine innings, a rate he hasn't seen over a full season since he was 21. The Giants are 11-4 in those 15 starts.
Look at how he shackled the Astros this week with six shutout innings. Zito did so without throwing a single pitch that reached 90 mph. But his breaking stuff was extraordinary. Zito threw 11 sliders, 10 of them for strikes, and 13 curveballs, 11 of them for strikes. That is amazing command while spinning the ball: 21 strikes out of 24 breaking balls. Zito is giving the Giants hope that their rotation, already considered one of the best in baseball, just might be even stronger.
3. The Houston Astros are the official winners of the title of First Team in Trouble. Could the season have begun any worse for a team that lost 88 games last year and has lost half a million paying customers in two years? The Astros were swept at home by the Giants. How ugly was it? Houston was outscored 18-6, drew only two walks while striking out 22 times, never held a lead, never hit a home run, and lost reliever
You say it has to get better? You haven't checked their schedule or their roster. Houston plays its next 12 games against the Phillies, Cardinals, Cubs and Marlins, completing a welcome-to-2010 opening sequence of 15 straight games against teams that won between 83 and 93 games last year. Its roster continues to be curiously overloaded with older players for a team that is not a contender. Of the 23 players used in the Giants series, 16 are in their 30s and only two are younger than 27: