Part five of our Hall of Fame ballot preview as we deal with not having live sports in North America brings us to Barry Zito. Zito was on an incredible track at the start of his career, but disappointment followed and he is not likely to get much support from the voters and will likely be one-and-done on the ballot.
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Why is he on the ballot?
Zito got out to an incredible start to his career as one of only 27 pitchers in MLB history with an ERA+ of at least 140 in his first four seasons (min. 500 IP). He led all MLB rookies in Wins Above Average and tied Mark Redman atop AL rookies in WAR in 2000 while making just 14 starts, but since WAR wasn’t a major stat yet he received just a single third-place vote for ROTY. He would win the Cy Young Award two years later after Pedro Martinez slightly let his foot off the gas from his dominant 2000-’01 pace (and fellow Red Sock Derek Lowe’s success may have hurt him if you believe in splitting votes for local writers). Zito also benefitted from a good share of luck that season as well. His OPS allowed was .629, compared to .607 his rookie year and .619 in 2003. Yet his ERA in 2002 was 2.75 compared to 2.72 his rookie year and 3.30 in 2003. His ERA in a neutralized 2002 environment was expected to be 2.93, further off from Martinez’s 2.26 or Lowe’s 2.58 and would have made his additional innings matter less. Still, it was an incredible four-year start to his career.
Why won’t he make the Hall of Fame?
After those four great seasons, Zito had four to six more seasons that were just decent before going downhill into negative-WAR territory. In his first seven seasons in Oakland, he produced 31.0 WAR. In his next seven years in San Francisco, he produced just 2.4 WAR. One or two more 140+ ERA+ seasons to go with more stable years with an ERA+ in the 105-115 range might have given Zito an interesting case. Instead, he’s a pitcher who gave up more home runs after the steroid era ended than he did when he was first coming into the league with Barry Bonds breaking records just across the bay.
After seven seasons in Oakland without a single one with an ERA+ below 100 and only one below 110, he posted just one season (2009) with an ERA+ above league average and none above 110 in San Francisco. He did win the 2012 World Series with the Giants, surprisingly continuing to start in the playoffs after a season in which he had an 85 ERA+ and was worth 0.1 WAR. He pitched well in those playoffs, with two wins and a no-decision in three starts while giving up no more than two runs in any appearance. That was a small sample of his 2.83 career playoff ERA in 10 starts in which he compiled a 6-3 record.
None of the Hall of Fame predictive metrics peg Zito as particularly close to being a Hall of Famer, with him receiving less than half of the points of an average HOFer on all of the Jamesian metrics. JAWS has him rated highest among Baseball-Reference’s HOF predictive metrics, placing him 249th all-time among starting pitchers. There are 65 starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame.
Lastly, Zito’s 4.04 career ERA exceeds the highest ERA among pitchers in the HOF, Jack Morris, by 0.14. Morris and Red Ruffing are the only two Hall of Fame pitchers with career ERAs higher than 3.70. Zito would be a major outlier, and doesn’t really have a chance to get in. For the first four years of his career, however, he was a thrilling young pitcher who looked like he could make it to Cooperstown one day.
Up next: Aramis Ramirez
Stats and info courtesy of Baseball-Reference.