It’s no secret that Barry Zito has undergone a mini career renaissance this year, clawing his way back from two sub-par seasons that had many calling his contract the worst free-agent contract ever to post some surprisingly solid numbers this year. His FIP is the best in four seasons, and his K/9 is the best he’s posted since way back in his 2002 banner season.
As has often been noticed, Zito’s decline has been a product of two things – a loss of velocity on a fastball that was already marginal at best, and a loss of command over his big looping curveball.
While Zito’s fastball velocity has inched up a bit this year, and his command is slightly better this season, neither has improved very significantly, and pretty much all other peripheral numbers are right at career norms.
No, the one big difference between 2009 Barry Zito and all other Barry Zito’s is that he is suddenly throwing a new pitch a lot more often – an 80 mph slider with good command. This slider has allowed Zito to get more K’s and have another option to get a strike over without having to always grove his 86 mph fastball right down the pipe.
When Zito first came up and dominated in the early years of this decade, he was basically a strictly fastball-curveball guy, mixing in an occasional changeup only about 15% of the time.
10 seasons later, he is still throwing his changeup about 15% of the time, but instead of throwing his fastball 60% of the time and his curveball 25%, he is now mixing in a slider.
Zito began experimenting with the slider as early as 2005, but until this year it was still an experimental pitch which he only threw on rare occasions (only about 7% of his pitches). But this season he is throwing the slider almost 18% of his pitches, and it’s been the main secret to his increased effectiveness.