Zito hoopla can’t hide cold, hard facts 

Hold on a minute here. Let’s take a deep breath and a reality check from all the congratulatory hoopla surrounding the Giants’ signingof Barry Zito.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice move. The Giants stepped up big-time. It was a lot of money, and Zito is a pretty good pitcher who will be a key component to any success they might enjoy in the coming years.

But the way the Giants have gone on and on about Zito the last few days, you’d think they’d finally added the kind of pitcher they’ve lacked the past few years.

Unfortunately, for the Giants and all of us who root for them, that’s not the case. Not the case at all. In fact, Barry Zito is actually a step backward from the man he’s replacing — Jason Schmidt. Just check the numbers.

Over the last four seasons, Zito went 55-46 with a 4.22 ERA over 138 starts for an A’s team that posted an record of 368-280, a .567 winning percentage.

Schmidt, over the same period, went 58-28 with a 3.33 ERA over 122 starts for a Giants team that racked up a 350-296 mark, a .542 winning percentage.

Not only did Schmidt post the better record while pitching for a team that won fewer games, he averaged more strikeouts and less walks per start, and gave up fewer hits. The only thing Zito has going in his favor is that he is five years younger than Schmidt.

So when the Giants go boasting that they’ve added this amazing franchise-altering piece to their puzzle facing the future be sure and take a moment to remember Schmidt’s contributions. Zito will have to pitcher better than he has in any season since his Cy Young in order to fill Schmidt’s shoes.

The funny thing about the Zito-Schmidt switch is that it looks a whole lot better than anything else the Giants have done this offseason, which means the rest of the Giants’ picture for ‘07 isn’t pretty, either.

They still have no alternative to Armando Benitez as their closer, their bullpen has yet to prove any degree of stability and they’re still looking for somebody to bat third in their lineup.

And that’s assuming all will fall into place in the nitpicking over Barry Bonds’ contract.

What does all this mean? Just that the Giants are still facing an uphill climb. They should be better able to manufacture runs with Dave Roberts and Omar Vizquel at the top of the lineup, but after that there really hasn’t been an

improvement in any facet of the team’s game ­ except in the managing department — over what they put on the field last year.

There is no way Brian Sabean can be done this offseason. The Giants need more talent. Otherwise, the signing of Zito isn’t going to mean a thing.

» Mike Nolan has been at the helm of the 49ers for two full seasons now. He’s taken a team left with fewer than a dozen bonafide NFL players thanks to Terry Donahue, and guided the team back to respectability.

Not only that, he and Scot McCloughan have cleared $40 million in cap space, which ought to make the Niners a big-time player in the free-agent market in the years to come. However, I don’t expect the Niners to go hog wild over free agents. The slow-growth method has gotten them to this point, and there is no sense rushing into things now.

Frank Gore, Alex Smith and Vernon Davis give the Niners the kind of talent to build around, and this could actually be a playoff team next year, something unthinkable at any time during the last 24 months.

Tim Liotta hosts the weekend edition of "Sportsphone 680" on KNBR (680 AM).

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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