- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Through the course of a year, I'll do about a half-dozen sessions with college students at different schools, and invariably, some version of this question will be asked: Why don't high-priced baseball players care more?
And the answer will be some version of this: Most of them really do care. And Barry Zito could be Exhibit A.
The instant he signed his seven-year deal with the Giants, the $126 million in his deal was guaranteed. All he needed to do to get his money thereafter was show up. But when he went to work in 2007, the first year of the deal, it started to go badly for him, right away. His velocity was down, and he considered altering his mechanics to make up for the loss of power, and he switched back.
Zito posted a 4.53 ERA in his first year with the Giants, and it got worse from there. Zito lost 17 games in 2008, and after his second start in 2009, his ERA was 10.00. Scouts were reporting that his fastball was in the low 80s, and the feeling within the industry was that in order to find success again, Zito would have to become a Jamie Moyer-like left-hander, pitching precisely -- and that was something that he really hadn't done before. He wasn't regarded as a pitcher with touch-and-feel command.
Zito could have shut it down emotionally; undoubtedly, other players have. I once covered a veteran with a significant guaranteed contract who didn't bother coming to the park during his time on the disabled list. He just didn't care about his teammates that much.
But Zito has always cared, and he has always worked to make adjustments, and lo and behold, he has become a Jamie Moyer-like left-hander, doing more with less, keeping hitters off balance. His time with the Giants will never be exactly what he or the team envisioned when he signed his contract, but Zito should always get credit for trying to make it work. And now it is working.
Why Zito won Friday, from John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Information:
A) Rockies hitters went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against his curveball. In five starts this season, Zito has not allowed a hit with the curveball. (Batters are 0-for-35 with 11 strikeouts against it.)
B) He threw 38 pitches inside, getting hitters to miss on 41.7 percent of them.
C) He finished off batters when getting two strikes; the Rockies were 1-for-15 in those situations.
Battle for first in NL East
The Mets had one of the toughest schedules in the National League at the outset of this season -- a whole lot of home games, yes, but against a whole lot of teams that came into the season regarded as contenders. So keep this in mind: The Mets' current win streak has been built in what is probably one of the most difficult portions of their schedule. They crushed the Phillies on Friday behind a strong effort from Jon Niese.
Last team standing in AL West
The AL West is all about rope-a-dope. Hang in there, take some body shots, hang in there some more, and then hope that you can emerge in the late rounds and win. Seattle played rope-a-dope for the first month while competing without Cliff Lee, and for a lot of the next month, the Oakland Athletics will have to play without their three best players -- plus a bunch of other guys. Kurt Suzuki is on the disabled list, along with Brett Anderson, and Oakland is trying to nurse Justin Duchscherer through his current hip problem so that he can miss just one start.
It's an ugly situation, especially for a team with a $55 million payroll, and the Athletics got thumped Friday. They'll just have to hang in there in the weeks ahead. Trevor Cahill got hit around in his return to the big leagues.
Why Lee and Lewis deserved to win:
A) Lee finished off Texas hitters: His 34.8 strikeout percentage was significantly higher than his 18.7 percent in 2009 and well above the 2010 MLB average of 18.5 percent, and he didn't walk a single Ranger.
B) Lee used his changeup effectively. Lee didn't rely heavily on the change, throwing it only 13 times, but he induced 11 swings on it for an 84.6 swing percentage. The MLB average swing percentage on a changeup is 48.5 percent, and Lee held Rangers hitters to 0-for-5 on those 11 swings.
C) Lee commanded the outside third of the plate. Texas hitters were 0-for-10 on the 37 pitches Lee threw on the outside part of the plate, and 30 of the 37 were thrown for strikes.
D) Seven of the 10 strikeouts generated by Lewis came on his slider.
E) Lewis had a first-pitch strike percentage of 74. (MLB average is 58 percent.)
Tracy tweaks Rockies' lineup
The Rockies, with their pitching very banged up, are in a situation similar to Oakland's -- trying to hold on and gain some traction. This is why Todd Helton was dropped in the lineup to the No. 5 spot. Jim Tracy has stacked speed at the top of his lineup.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Rangers promoted Tanner Scheppers to Triple-A. He will become part of the AL West race sometime this summer, as Texas delves into its reinforcements. Texas has a bullpen ERA of 5.25.
2. A Reds prospect was surprised by his call to the big leagues.
4. A Brewers prospect is struggling mentally, and will be given more time off from baseball, Tom Haudricourt writes.
7. As constituted, the Braves won't win anything, writes Mark Bradley.
8. The Marlins made a switch in their rotation.
9. Terry Francona is still fashioning the parameters of Tim Wakefield's new role, which Wakefield doesn't want to talk about.
You have to say this for Francona: He is in a very difficult position, because players with whom he shares a long history are clearly struggling, and struggling to cope with their diminished roles. This is why the guess here is that the front office will not allow this situation to continue. The guess here is that the unhappy veterans who aren't producing in primary roles anymore will be cut free.
We've seen Theo Epstein make very difficult choices in the past in the middle of the season, with players like Manny Ramirez, and it would not be a surprise if David Ortiz -- whose average is down to .143, after his 0-for-4 performance Friday -- is in his last days with the Red Sox.
Dings and dents
1. The Tigers' rookies had a very big day, John Lowe writes.
4. The Padres have racked up 24 consecutive scoreless innings after shutting out the Brewers on Friday.
5. The Reds have won five straight, and Dusty Baker is pumped, John Fay writes.
7. The Brewers are not scoring any runs.
8. Watched a lot of the Royals-Rays game Friday, and Brian Bannister was outstanding, putting Kansas City in position to win the game in the late innings. Bannister told Bob Dutton he was helped by a session on Evan Longoria's drum set: "I got to go in there and jam on it [Thursday]," Bannister said. "Look what it did for me. I think he should charge by the minute, although I don't know if he'll let anyone else use it anymore."
11. The White Sox got a quick lead but lost again.
12. The Cubs spent a lot of their day trotting around the bases, Toni Ginnetti writes.
14. The Houston hitters had no answers.
A) He threw a first-pitch strike to 78.6 percent of batters faced (second highest of career: 80.8 on Sept. 26, 2009).
B) He threw his fastball for strikes on 76.8 percent of pitches (highest of career).
C) He had better command of his slider, against which hitters went 0-for-5 (11-for-33 in first four starts).
18. Miguel Tejada was The Man for the Orioles. I flipped to this game just in time to see Tejada bury a Daniel Bard fastball deep into the stands in left-center field; the old guy can crush a fastball.
19. The Pirates had a tough night in L.A.
21. For a moment, it looked as if Longoria had beaten the Royals with one swing of the bat.
The day after Jimenez's no-no
From former big league catcher Brent Mayne's blog:
Ubaldo Jimenez recently accomplished an amazing feat by throwing a no-hitter. While impressive, I find what happened the next day to be just as important and something all athletes might learn from.
It had to be a really quick night after all the hoopla of pitching the Colorado Rockies first ever no-no ... dealing with the media, answering emails, etc. And on top of that, the Rockies had a day game following that night game in Atlanta.
But here's where things get interesting. What does Ubaldo do on the morning after such a lofty accomplishment? He wakes up at 6:30 am and runs 6 miles through the streets of Atlanta. If ever a guy deserved to sleep in a little. This tells me Jimenez (like all the greats) is committed to "the process."
It's been said many times before, baseball is a game of failure. It's built into the game. If you base your enjoyment and self-worth on how well you do, you're in for one hell of a roller coaster ride. And just like a roller coaster, it's fun once, but riding one over and over again will make you flat out sick.
Good players recognize and avoid this trap for the most part. They learn that lasting success and longevity come from trust in a process. In other words, they evaluate a day on how well they focused, did they get their work done, was their routine crisp. Not did they throw a no-hitter or get 4 hits. Results come and go but a good process lasts.
Trust me, when it's all said and done, I'm all about whether you got it done or not. It's just that I recognize results are a by-product of a quality routine ... not the other way around. Obviously, Jimenez (and Halladay, and Lincecum, and Mauer, and every other great player) recognize the same thing.
Jimenez runs 6 miles the day after a start. Period. It's part of his process. He doesn't just do it after a win. He does it all the time. Then he probably plays long toss and lifts the next day, then a bullpen the next day, then something else the next day. And that leads him into his next start. So it's all one big thing, it's a week long or season long routine, not just a win or loss. And it's not driven by results.
The Patience Index
Barry Zito is back. San Francisco's $126 million left-hander deserves all the credit for his recent turnaround.