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Zito Looking For More Zip

Spring training is nigh, which means it's time for a gaggle of stories on players sporting new unis, trimming waistlines or tweaking their approaches. San Francisco's Barry Zito is one such tinkerer, as the lefty is looking to regain some oomph on his pitches after a disastrous, injury-marred 2011.

Zito served the first two DL stints of his 12-year career with a right foot sprain in 2011, getting clobbered for a 5.87 ERA in 53.2 innings pitched. Now, the AP reports he's hoping that going low will bring up his ultra-low radar gun readings last season:

During the offseason, he worked on bending his front leg to get lower to the ground and speed up the momentum the ball gains traveling to the plate.

Zito revealed his new crouching style during a spring training throwing session Sunday.

"It's pretty subtle from a feel standpoint. As far as when it manifests in momentum, that's when it's a little more noticeable," Zito said. "It was something I was doing a little bit last year that you guys were aware of, just getting a little bit more momentum down the mound. That was something that I worked on all offseason."

Zito has never been especially reliant upon his low-octane fastball, but the pitch lost zip and all semblance of effectiveness in 2011. With Zito hobbled, he surrendered velocity, control and bat-missing ability with his "heater":

Year Velocity Pct. Thrown in Strike Zone Miss Pct.
2009 86.5 47.6 15.7
2010 85.6 45.2 15.4
2011 84 40.5 10.4
Avg. for LH SP 90.1 52.5 14.6


He seemingly tried to nibble at the corners with his fastball in 2011, but he just ended up missing wide. Check out his fastball location in 2009-10, and then last season:

Zito's fastball location, 2009-10

Zito's fastball location, 2011

Toronto's Kyle Drabek was the only big league starter to throw a lower percentage of fastballs in the zone in 2011.

Zito managed an above-average miss rate with his fastball in years past by getting some empty swings on high pitches...

Opponent contact rate vs. Zito's fastball, 2009-10

In 2011, however, nearly the entire zone was a hot spot for opposing hitters:

Opponent contact rate vs. Zito's fastball, 2011

Opponents getting a fastball against Zito last year morphed into vintage Barry Bonds, batting .337/.444/.602 overall (they hit .264/.374/.445 against his fastball in 2009-10).  

Zito's name has become synonymous with free agent pitching blunders, as he has pulled down $80 million during his five years with the Giants while producing just 3.8 Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement. No matter what he does from this point forward, his tenure with the Giants will be remembered grimly. But if San Fran is going to recoup any value on the $46-$57 million they still owe Zito (depending on whether his 2014 option vests), they need his fastball to at least be functional.

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