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Barry Zito, back in the circle of trust

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I understand why there's so much roto-hate out there for Barry Zito(notes). He crushed you in 2007, he let you down in 2008, and that picture to the right should make all of us a little bit angry. But his comeback story has been out there for nine months now, and it's time to accept the reality of the situation: the lefty is mixed-league worthy in any format.

Zito's first three starts this year were excellent if not dominant; he had a tidy 1.86 ERA working but just nine whiffs over 19.1 innings. But the eccentric lefty brought out his best stuff in his fourth turn, an eight-inning gem against the Cardinals Saturday (3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 K). When you shut down Albert Pujols(notes) & Company, you've done something impressive. Here's your video scouting report.

When you add up all of Zito's 2010 work, we're looking at a 1.32 ERA and 0.84 WHIP, numbers that are clearly unsustainable for any pitcher (this isn't 1968, after all). It's easy for the lazy internet scribe to play the "regression coming!" card with Zito – everyone knows he won't maintain a .205 BABIP and an 82.6 percent strand rate all season. But can Zito keep his ERA below 4 and maintain mixed-league worthiness all season? Parked in that roomy San Francisco park, I'm betting that he can.

The comeback story hasn't come completely out of nowhere – Zito was very useful in his final 15 starts of 2009 (2.83 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 74 K in 86 IP). He got the feel of his curveball back last summer and so far this year he's been outstanding with the curve and change while putting his fastball where he wants. Mix that together and you've got a trustable arm for the middle of your make-believe staff.

There's one other thing we need to mention in a Zito piece: his contract. Yes, Brian Sabean made a gigantic mistake when he handed a seven-year, $126 million deal to Zito after the 2006 season. But why should we sweat the package? We don't have to pay him every two weeks, the Giants do. (And while we're on the subject, cut Vernon Wells(notes) and Alex Rios(notes) a break, too.)

The whopping contract probably had a role in Zito's 2007 and 2008 collapse. It's a massive burden to walk to the mound every fifth day trying to justify that you're worth an $126 million paycheck. But Zito's finally gotten over that mental hurdle, and it's time for fantasy owners to get on board, too.

I'm calling Zito a $13 arm from here on out – ranking him over guys like Rick Porcello(notes), Rich Harden(notes), Edwin Jackson(notes) and anyone on the Reds. Coming along for the ride, or is Zito still fool's gold in your estimation? Let's discuss in the comments.

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