Zito gets older, fastball gets faster

The secret to Barry Zito's success? Well, to (wildy) paraphrase Ann Killion, maybe 90 percent of the game really is half mental ...

    This April, Zito has command, presence and confidence on the mound, all the things he's lacked since he came across the Bay from Oakland to San Francisco in December 2006.

    "It's taken three years to get back to the person I was going into that contract," he said. "I'm sorting it out in my life."


    Zito is still the artsy, philosophical guy he's always been. But he made some basic changes.

    "I stopped bringing people up to my house late at night, I stopped letting people into my house that I didn't know," he said. "I just started to focus on things that would add to me as a person instead of what was fun in the moment."

    He took his first trip to Europe, by himself. He went to London and Paris and drove from Milan to Rome. "I'd put it off for years," he said. "Traveling can be a scary thing. But I challenged myself to do the uncomfortable thing."

    When he first signed his contract, he bought a $9 million house in Marin County, a beautiful spot more suited to a hedge fund manager with four children than a single hipster baseball player. While he still has the house, home is now a flat in the Marina District of San Francisco.

    "You go through this arc where you get this money and you live in a big house and have a lot of cars," he said. "In retrospect, be careful of what you wish for. When you get everything you dreamed of, it can be daunting.

    "I've simplified my life."

    Part of his new mindset, Zito concedes, is the fruit of maturity. He'll be 32 in May and the last few years have been painfully humbling.

It's difficult and perhaps pointless to separate the physical from the mental and emotional. It's a fairly small difference, but Zito's been throwing harder -- if you believe Pitchf/x -- in 2009 and '10 than he did in 2007 and '8. Is he throwing harder and pitching better because he's more mature, and happier? Or is he happier and more mature because he's throwing harder, and pitching better?

I don't have any idea. But suddenly it's not inconceivable that Zito will provide, over these next four seasons, a surprisingly decent return on the Giants' investment.