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Ricescapades: Barry Zito and May Decline Candidates

Barry Zito had a brilliant April, but a seven-walk meltdown on Wednesday night could be a dark omen. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Barry Zito had a brilliant April, but a seven-walk meltdown on Wednesday night could be a dark omen. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Being a Giants fan and living in Northern California has its perks, namely being on the front lines of Barry Zito's sudden apparent career renaissance. After twirling a brilliant shut out in Coors Field in his first start, Zito continued to pitch well throughout April, ending the month with a 1.67 ERA in four starts. After opening the year on the waiver wire of most fantasy leagues, the erstwhile bad contract dictionary definition suddenly became one of the hotter junk pile pickups. Is it totally insane to believe that Zito has reinvented himself and is poised to put up a season worthy of a fantasy roster spot?

Having seen all of his starts so far, I feel completely qualified to give my own amateurish scouting opinion. The first thing I noticed about Zito when watching his first start against Colorado was that he had totally revamped his windup, and was also releasing the ball from a different arm angle. Instead of bringing his hands over his head in the middle of his windup, he was only bringing them up to the letters before starting his leg kick, and he was releasing the ball from a more three-quarters angle. The way he cut through the Rockies' lineup like nothing led me to believe that hitters were having a hard time picking the ball up out of his hand. After he continued to have success in subsequent starts, the evidence mounted that this new and improved Zito was for real.

Of course, the calendar then flipped to May, and in his first post-April start against Miami, Zito walked seven batters and was forced to leave in the fourth inning after a descent into pitch count hell. This is the Zito we've known so well since 2007, the guy with poor control and no way of finishing off hitters. Zito miraculously came away from the debacle having only allowed one earned run, but it could easily have been four or five.

Sadly, new arm angle or no, I think we should expect more of this from Zito in the coming months. If my eyes aren't deceiving me and Zito has developed a more deceptive delivery, then it represents a legitimate explanation, from a scouting standpoint, for his early success. Better, anyway, than "he's in the best shape of his life" or "he inhaled some extra incense". However, poor control has been the big enemy for Zito and on Wednesday it reared its ugly head for the first time in 2012. I can't bring myself to believe that, after a career of iffy control, he's suddenly become Greg Maddux.

Expect a decline, though not a collapse. Think his 2009 or his 2010 seasons, rather than his 2008 or 2011 disasters. That still makes him a valuable starter in a deep league, well worth the time it took to go pick him up off of the free agent wire early this month.

After the jump, a few other veterans who had hot Aprils, but who aren't destined to maintain that success.

Kyle Lohse

I know it seems like I crap on Kyle Lohse a lot here on Fake Teams, but I'm convinced a correction is coming. By "correction", I mean a vicious stomping by NL hitters in atonement for his fluke 2011 season and first month of 2012. Okay, maybe that's being harsh, but Lohse's middling strikeout numbers and general career mediocrity have made me one of his most vocal skeptics. Perhaps I'm just bitter because I dropped him in a keeper league right before his stellar 2011, but at the very least he's not going to continue to be the Cy Young candidate you're seeing now. Also, throughout his career, April has always been his best month, before the bottom falls out come May 1st. Perhaps you can convince some manager that this is just a continuation of his 2011, and he's really this super-awesome, and sell high.

Jake Westbrook

Hey, it's another Cardinal! You know we must be living in some sort of bizarro world when Jake Westbrook enters May with a 1.30 ERA while Adam Wainwright sports a 6.75 clip. I don't even need to click Westbrook's Baseball Reference page to guess that his success has been some amalgam of ultra-low BABIP, fluke opponent line drive percentages, and weak opposition (i.e. the NL Central). He went the entire month of April without allowing a home run, which, um, isn't going to continue. He is a better pitcher than he showed in his poor 2011, but don't expect him to build on his strong April and be anything more than an innings-eater with an ERA around 4.00

Joe Saunders

Saunders had one of the strangest "good" seasons ever in 2011. He didn't strike many people out, he gave up a lot of home runs, he didn't exhibit great control, he didn't induce a lot of ground balls, and he pitched in a band box. Frankly, I can't figure out how he got anybody out, much less how he put up a very solid ERA of 3.69. The house of cards has continued to hold its ground in 2012, too, as he'll enter his next start sporting a 0.90 ERA in 36 innings. So far this year he's been fortunate enough to face the Padres, Pirates, and a Marlins team that couldn't hit a white whale against a black background in April. At some point this train is going to run off the tracks, and your fantasy rotation is going to be the wreckage.

Derek Lowe

I've always thought Lowe was an underrated fantasy performer, at least before last year. You could always, always, bank on him for around 200 innings and an ERA that ranged from "won't kill you" to flat out beneficial. His worm-slaughtering ground ball tendencies have helped him stay productive despite the relatively low strikeout totals. This year he's started out 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA, but three of those starts have come against miserable lineups and he has yet to face the Murderer's Row that is the Detroit lineup. Once he gets into the more power-laden offenses in the AL and his luck starts to dry up, expect the ERA to bloat to its usual levels, which could vary from still-acceptable (2010) to altogether bad (2011).