That's Debatable: Chat with Jayson Stark

Welcome to The Show! On Monday, senior MLB writer Jayson Stark will drop by at 1 p.m. ET for another installment of "That's Debatable," a weekly feature in which we break down a hot topic you have suggested.

Monday's topic, courtesy of Donny from San Mateo:
"Which free agent pitching signing is the worst in baseball history: Barry Zito or Mike Hampton?"

So what represents a worse contract: a pitcher with a $121 million deal whose permanent address is on "DL Street" or a pitcher with a 7.53 ERA, an 84-mph fastball and about six years and $116 million left on his contract?

Take your pick. Mike Hampton or Barry Zito?

Those were the distinguished nominees by Donny from San Mateo for worst free-agent pitcher contract in baseball history. Excellent choices. So let's consider them:


This was one of those contracts that looked like a bad idea at the time and looks worse now. Zito is a year and a month into a $126 million deal, with most of the money (gulp) back-loaded. Since arriving in San Francisco, he is tied for the most losses by any pitcher in baseball (19). He has the third-worst winning percentage (.367) among pitchers with more than 25 decisions in that time. And he has allowed 19 baserunners in 6 2/3 innings over his past two starts. But while the Giants have talked about having him skip a start, it's tough to like their chances of finding a way for him to skip six more years' worth of starts.


As Hampton nears the finish line of his eight-year, $121 million contract, here's how that one breaks down: He will have been paid $35.5 million by the Braves, $38 million by a team he never pitched for (the Marlins) and $47.5 million by the team that originally signed him (the Rockies). He has won 53 games over the first seven years and $100 million of that contract, which comes to just under $1.89 million a win. (Yikes!) But the scarier number is 100, which is our estimate of the number of starts he has missed since he signed on that dotted line.


There are compelling arguments for both sides. But I'm going with Hampton, for two reasons: 1) He's so near the end of his deal, it's easier to assess how disastrous a contract this was. And 2) at least Zito goes out there and pitches (and as messy as that has been), there's at least some redeeming value in the innings he eats. ("Some" is the magic word in that sentence, by the way.)

But feel free to disagree or nominate some deserving candidate of your own for the honor of Worst Free-Agent Pitching Contract Ever. Now it's your turn.

Every week, we'll give you the topic and then we'll have one of our writers stopping by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.

Stark Archive: Chats | Columns

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