Yesterday’s game against the San Francisco Giants was an interesting match-up. For the Giants you had Barry Zito who was the marquee pitcher from the free agent class two years ago. Much was made of Mr. Zito and how he would be the staff ace of whatever team he ended up going to. His agent was demanding massive amounts of money and years in order to sign him. At the time there were many Diamondbacks fans who were vocal with their opinions that Arizona should go after Barry Zito. Instead the Diamondbacks chose to go a different direction and traded for Doug Davis who was then with the Milwaukee Brewers. Fans were left scratching their heads. Members of the Diamondbacks front office I talked to went on and on how Davis’ statistics were a mirror image of those of Zito and that the team was able to slide him into the rotation for a fraction of the cost that Zito was asking for. Turn ahead the clock to 2008 and let’s look at their comparative stats.
Davis has a record of 16-17 with an ERA of 4.23 with 211 strikeouts and 135 walks in 273.2 innings of work while Barry Zito has a record of 16-18 with a 5.16 ERA with 202 strikeouts and 151 walks in 305.1 innings. These numbers are extremely similar. The largest difference is in innings pitched which can be accounted for by the fact that Doug Davis missed part of this season for treatment for thyroid cancer. These numbers are over one and a half seasons. If we just looked at this year, the numbers definitely favor Davis whose ERA is nearly 1.5 runs lower while the strike out totals are almost identical. Zito has had his share of problems this year having been demoted to the bullpen already once and could be a candidate to be designated a reliever again before the year is out. Barry came into this game with a 5-12 record and 5.80 ERA so hopes were high that the Diamondbacks might catch a break and be able to complete a rare 3-game sweep at AT&T Park.
On the other side of the diamond Arizona was sending out 44 year-old Randy Johnson to attempt to get his eighth win of the year. This has been a somewhat interesting year for Randy. After going 4-1 to begin the season we saw him struggle losing his next 6 game accumulating an ERA of over 6.00 during that stretch. There were some who questioned whether the Big Unit had finally lost his edge. There were even murmurings that perhaps Arizona should move him to the bullpen and let one of the other pitchers have his spot in the rotation. Those discussions were quickly put on hold after Randy beat the San Diego Padres on July 6. Since then he has gone 4-0 in his next 4 starts allowing only 4 runs over that time period. Randy has not been the same dominating pitcher that he was earlier in his career but he has begun to get a good feel for all of his pitches and has managed the strike zone with the precision of a surgeon. The velocity has gone down. He’s no longer throwing 98-99 MPH. Now his fastball lives in the 90-91 MPH range which is still faster than many of his opponents. The loss of velocity was especially noticeable yesterday when Randy’s first pitch came in so slow that it did not even register on the radar gun. It looked as though it was lobbed in to change baseballs rather than thrown for a strike. The batter, the catcher, and the fans sat there stunned when the home plate umpire called it a strike. Now before anyone panics, this pitch was an anomaly when a tug boat floating by honked his horn just as Randy was in his motion to release the pitch. Everyone assumed the umpire would call time but he didn’t and the ball floated in for strike one. It was one of the funniest things I have seen. I bet the bird from Spring Training a few years ago would have wished Johnson was throwing that slow then. Instead the bird exploded as it was struck by a 99 MPH fastball.
The game went well for Randy and the Arizona Diamondbacks. They handed Barry Zito his 13th loss of the season and gave Johnson his 292nd win of his career win meaning he is only 8 away from the vaulted 300th win. The way he is pitching right now I wouldn’t want to bet against Randy getting that milestone this season. I hope he does, he really deserves it.