After posting his second consecutive subpar season for the Mets, Jason Bay proved his lucrative $66 million, four-year deal was a complete bust. And even though Bay did see his homerun total double (from 6 homeruns to 12 homeruns), he also saw a decline in batting average (from .259 to .245), on-base percentage (from .347 to .329), slugging percentage (from .402 to .374), and ISO (from .144 to .128).
Bay has a guaranteed $35 million over the next two seasons (including his $3 million buyout for 2014), which makes him an incredibly difficult person to trade. However, despite how bad Bay’s contract is, there is a good chance the Mets could swap him for today’s “Bad Contract of the Day to Swap Jason Bay With,” pitcher Barry Zito.
Arguably the worst contract ever handed to a player was the seven-year, $126 million deal Barry Zito signed before the 2007 season with the San Francisco Giants. Prior to the Giants, Zito had enjoyed numerous good seasons as a member of the Oakland Athletics–but he hardly deserved such a monstrous contract. From 2001 to 2005, the southpaw owned a 3.56 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 2.08 K/BB. His finest season came in 2002, when the left-handed pitcher won 23 games while posting a 2.75 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 2.33 K/BB. Zito also won the CY Young award that season.
Despite the accolades and good overall stats, Zito was most certainly mislabeled as an “ace.” In fact, the lefty was a completely different pitcher in his first three full-seasons (3.17 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 2.17 K/BB in 675.3 IP) than his last three seasons (4.05 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 1.80 K/BB in 662.3 IP) for the A’s. Obvious red flags aside, the Giants happily handed Zito a deal that was correctly panned.
As his abysmal 5.22 xFIP in 2006 anticipated, Zito continued to decline as a Giant, posting a pedestrian 4.53 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 1.58 K/BB in the first season of his new contract. While many hoped his mediocre 2007 season was just a first year adjustment period, Zito settled that argument by hurling an even uglier 5.15 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and 1.18 K/BB in 180 innings the following season. His performance turned so sour, that the Giants even tried demoting him to the bullpen. By the end of 2008, Zito was not only stripped of his “ace” label, but also, many people felt the former dependable lefty was toast.
To Zito’s credit, the pitcher did not completely fizzle out. From 2009 to 2010, the lefty posted a respectable 4.09 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 1.84 K/BB. Zito’s production was solid for a fourth or fifth starter–but then again, he was earning $18.5 million per season. “Progression” aside, Zito encountered his first altercation with the disabled list in 2011. The pitcher injured his foot in mid-April, knocking him out until late-June. With replacement Ryan Vogelsong pitching like an ace, there was no room in the rotation for Zito upon his return, so the Giants used him for spot starts. After six unglamorous starts (5.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 1.83 K/BB in 36.6 IP), Zito injured his ankle, and landed again on the DL. Zito returned in September, but after four forgettable relief stints (9.00 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, and 1.00 K/BB in 4 IP), the Giants shut him down. On the season, Zito pitched to the tune of a 5.87 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and 1.33 K/BB in 53.6 innings.
To-date (from 2007 to 2011), Barry Zito has collected a 6.6 fWAR or $27.8 million as a San Francisco Giant. But considering he’s earned $80 million during that tenure, Zito has unanimously been a huge failure. And given that the pitcher also has two years with $46 million guaranteed left on his contract, it makes him the toughest player in baseball to trade. No one will make the argument that Zito is not a top-of-the-rotation starter, but at the very least, the guy has been “usable.” Aside from 2011, the pitcher been extremely durable (averaged 211 innings per season from 2001 to 2010), and prior to last season, never made a DL-trip.
The real question is whether his long-standing durability and potential mediocrity (as opposed to whatever you want to call 2011) is worth Jason Bay. The answer is, “Absolutely not.” The 33 year-old Zito posted all-time highs in some not-so-flattering categories, including K/9 (5.37 K/9), HR/9 (1.68 HR/9), HR/FB (15.9 HR/FB), ERA (5.87), FIP (5.60 FIP), average fastball speed (84.1 MPH), Contact% (84.6%), and wiff rate (6.2%). It might be a tad unfair to call him out during an injury-plagued season, but then again, stats don’t lie. So as much as we Mets fans dislike Jason Bay for the lush checks he cashes at the bank, we should feel fortunate it isn’t Barry Zito in his place.