Barry Zito’s Cumulative Value After Those Gems

Barry Zito hasn’t been worth the $99 million that the Giants have paid him since he signed his seven-year, $126-million contact in 2007. Obvious, maybe, since the contract is the bogeyman of pitcher contracts. But could you change assumptions about some of his value over the contract so far and make the 34-year-old lefty worth almost as much as nine figures? Especially after his last two postseason starts?

Take his straight wins over replacement value and the best current research we have on how much wins are worth, and it seems impossible that he could have been worth a healthy portion of his contract so far. He has had a 4.47 ERA and 1.4 WHIP in San Francisco, which owns a pitcher’s park in a pitcher’s league. Account for the things he has been most in control of while pitching on the new contract — strikeouts (16.1%, ~20% is the league average), walks (10.2%, ~9% is average), and home runs (one per nine, one per nine is average) — and he’s put up seven WAR. With the most recent numbers from Matt Swartz coming in around five million dollars per win this year, he’s woefully short of being worth $99 million.

But the marketplace of public baseball research has other options when it comes to pitcher value. Using other WAR values won’t help Zito, but you could look at our Fielding Dependent Pitching numbers. After all, Zito has a .269 career batting average on play, which is much better than the league average. If you want to give him credit for that as a skill, you could use his RA/9 value. That number approximates what Zito’s actual run allowance was worth, once you factor in league and park (which you have to do or every Padre pitcher ever would just look so sweet). Zito has accrued 9.0 RA/9 wins. Now we’ve got his value up closer to half of his contract.

There are other dollars per win numbers out there, too. Cleveland Team President Mark Shapiro just let the cat out of the bag yesterday: the Indians’ front office valued a 2012 win at $9 million. They thought wins were worth $8 million a year in 2012. Using these numbers as a guidepost, you could say that Zito’s nine RA/9 wins since 2007 have been worth closer to $60 million.

Now here comes the part that might not go over well with you. Well, you should already be pretty uncomfortable with the assumptions we’ve made so far, but this one might be pretty wacky. Barry Zito just pitched the Giants into the World Series, in a way. I mean, the team had to win or go home and Zito pitched a gem in St. Louis. Without that win, the Giants wouldn’t have played game six, at the very least.

Let’s try to give his value a boost by adding the extra revenue the Giants got from his big game five victory.

If you start conservatively — hah — and give him credit for the Giant’s extra revenue they received directly from from his win, then you can only give him game six. Ryan Vogelsong had to pitch them into game seven, after all. That’s one more game the Giants played because Zito pitched well. Maury Brown from the Business of Baseball gives us gate receipts for teams heading into 2009, and we can see that the Giants averaged $1.4m per NLCS game in 2002. But standing room only tickets cost $50 directly from the team in 2010, and in 2012, they cost $175. Sometimes these things escalate quickly. If we’re going to keep being as nice as possible, and compound that $1.4 million at 10% a year, that’s another $3.3 million in estimated 2012 gate receipts you could give Zito in value added.

But the Giants don’t get all of that money. Our Wendy Thurm broke it down for us, but the short answer is that it looks like baseball gets 15% of the game six revenue, and then the two teams split the rest. Even at the end of the series, the Giants would only pull down 42.5% of the gate. So you can really only add about a million and a half dollars of value to Zito’s ledger for game six.

And Barry Zito didn’t win game five all by himself. Including his contributions at the plate — remember that bunt — Zito had a .324 WPA in game five, meaning he improved the Giant’s chances of winning that game by 32.4%. That’s pretty impressive all by himself, but now you have to give a third of that extra value to his teammmates, leaving Zito with about a million of extra value.

But you know, they wouldn’t have played in game seven without Zito’s win either. Or at least four games of the World Series. And if you add in his game one victory (.189 WPA), you can give him credit for a big portion of game five in the World Series.

Let’s be generous and give him two-thirds (game five WPA) of one-half (team’s share of late-series games) of $3.3 million for games six and seven of the NLCS. Then let’s give him two-thirds (game five WPA) of one-quarter (the teams’ portion after the players take their share) of $8.8 million of gate receipts for games one through four of the World Series. (The Giants averaged $3 million per game in 2002 World Series gate.) And for game five of the World Series, let’s give him two-fifths (game one WPA) of one-half (teams’ portion) of $8.8 million. Add all of THAT together, and you get… around nine million dollars.

There’s one last trick you can pull. Winning puts butts in the seats going forward, as this study found. And winning in the postseason has a hangover effect going forward, as more fans come to games when their team is competitive.

But even here the mitigating factors strip most of Zito’s singular value away. As Vince Gennaro, SABR president, pointed out in part three of his three-parter on the subject, not every team benefits the same from a win boost. The Giants sold 99.5% of their possible home tickets last season (third in baseball). Somehow Boston sold 101.4%… even if you give the Giants a possible boost of 1% of their current attendance, you can only give Zito credit for an extra 30,000 fans next season, and only them once you strip out Zito’s teammate’s contributions to those victories and those extra fans.

We’ve been as nice as we could to a fine guy who’s pitched two gems in this postseason, and we can’t quite push this boulder all the way up the hill. But if you do give him credit for almost all of his team’s runs allowed while he was pitching, and then partial credit for the extra postseason games that his work permitted, and then use the most favorable dollars-per-win numbers, you can squint and see almost $69 million in value, against $99 million in salary. That’s what good health and a few well-timed playoff gems (and the rosiest of glasses) can do for you.

Two thirds of his huge contract in return value is probably a lot more than anybody would have thought possible when Barry Zito was left off the Giants playoff roster in 2010.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Chris from Bothell
10 years ago

Considering the success of the Indians over the last 10 years – a barely .500 team much of the time, one postseason appearance, 4 90+ loss seasons – I’d take Shapiro’s valuing a win being worth $9M with a grain of salt. Is Cleveland’s outlook really representative? If you compare to what other teams spent the last couple seasons, does it seem like a lot of other clubs were paying 8 to 9 million per win?

Pirates Hurdles
10 years ago

That number seems like nonsense, it doesn’t pass the smell test at all. An average MLB regular at 2.0 WAR being worth $18 million seems pretty far off (unless you’re Jayson Werth). If that’s the case than #4 SP should rejoice, Maholm you’re about to be a rich man!

10 years ago

Of course, if he’s using different constructions for wins and replacement level (a safe assumption), it may not be true that 2.0 WAR is average.

Eric R
10 years ago

In 2012 there were 1130 total fWAR; if we are assuming that Shapiro is similarly valuing players, just with a different replacement level throwing it off–

1130 fWAR x $5M/fWAR = $5652M
$5652M/ ($9M/sWAR) = 628 sWAR

So fWAR has a replacement level team at 43-119 and the Indians at 60-102. I’m not sure I buy it with so many teams well below 60 wins.