Black is white, up is down: Zito good, Verlander bad

Doug Pensinger

In Game 1, the Giants shocked the experts by shelling Justin Verlander while Barry Zito dominated the Tigers.

On paper, this game was an utter mismatch: the best pitcher of the last few seasons, the reigning Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander against the oft-maligned, albatross contract-owning junkballer Barry Zito. It wasn't a question of whether the Tigers would win, it was by how much, and it seemed a smart move for the Giants to use their least effective pitcher in what was essentially a throwaway unwinnable game.

But baseball is not played on paper, and Barry Zito did not consider this game a throwaway. He went out and systematically dismantled the Tigers much like he did to the Cardinals a few days previous. How was he able to do this? Conversely, how were the Giants able to rough up Verlander so thoroughly?

The answers are simple. Barry Zito is so bad, he's good- especially against the Tigers, who rely almost exclusively on their power and ability to square up balls. Zito's "fastball" barely cracked 86 MPH tonight (as usual), and his curve sat at a cool 73. The Tigers quite simply have never seen anyone like him. Zito has six pitches in his repertoire that he uses at a relatively similar rate. A batter is never able to sit on a pitch, never knows what's coming. When Zito is unable to locate his pitches and leaves them over the plate, he gets hit hard. He did this on only a few occasions, and once he was bailed out by the fantastic defense of Gregor Blanco. Otherwise, his curve was breaking sharply down in the zone and nipping both corners of the plate.

Zito can struggle against right handers, which would seem to be a disadvantage against the almost exclusively right handed Tiger lineup, but he was able to use his cutter and slider to effectively pitch inside against those righties with pitches that appeared over the plate but had late life, drifting in on the hands. The result was either a foul ball or a ball drilled into the ground. The Tigers seemed utterly mystified by his command of all his pitches and were unable to square up on anything he threw, totally negating their power advantage.

On the other hand, Justin Verlander came into the game throwing about the same as he usually does, and he got rocked. The reason for this is that Verlander loves to pound the zone and throw strikes, while the Giants are notorious hackers, swinging at anything and everything they can. Many pitchers have "out pitches" that they go to in order to get batters out more effectively, and in many cases those pitches are balls rather than strikes. Verlander's out pitches are his curveball and high cheese. These are excellent pitches, but they are both strikes. If you throw the Giants a strike, they will swing at it- particularly Pablo Sandoval. Sometimes he gets himself out, sometimes he gets ahold of one. Tonight he got ahold of two Verlander pitches and one Al Albuquerque pitch and deposited them in the seats. That's what he does if you throw him strikes consistently, especially when he's hitting well- he can be very streaky.

In conclusion, the Giants were successful because Verlander threw them strikes, and the Tigers were unsuccessful because Zito threw them balls. Sounds simple on paper.

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