The Scott Kazmir Rebound Continues
The interesting part about baseball players is they rarely develop along a linear path. Development comes in fits and starts, and the path ends ends up resembling a roller coaster. Few players have career arcs to match the Scott Kazmir rebound. It rivals the top roller coasters in the United States.
Drafted in the 1st round of 2002 by the Mets, Kazmir debuted in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In his first full season, he struck out 174 batters while leading the league in walks, compiling a 3.77 ERA and 116 ERA+. After an all-star appearance in 2006, he eclipsed 200 innings pitched, striking out 239 batters against 89 walks, winning 13 games, and posting a 5.1 WAR (all career highs) in 2007. He solidified his place as a top-tier starter, leading the Rays to their first-ever World Series appearance against the Phillies in 2008.
However, what goes up comes down eventually. Arm injuries, and a subsequent loss of velocity, derailed his next three seasons as Kazmir spent time on the disabled list. His K/9 dropped from 10.4/9 in 2007 to 5.6/9 in 2011, while his walks, home runs against, and hits per inning all increased during the same period. It was a precipitous fall, and one that prompted Chris Cwik to write this brief “eulogy” back in 2011.
After poor performance led to his release by the Angels, his career appeared over. The rest of 2011 and 2012 was spent in independent leagues, struggling to regain the form that had made him a top pitcher in MLB. Kazmir was struggling to throw in the high 80s in the summer of 2012. According to Kazmir physical compensations snowballed quickly into mental fatigue, which served to complicate his entire pitching process. However, after working to rediscover his velocity, his fastball was clocked in the low-to-mid 90s by the end of 2012. Thus, the Scott Kazmir rebound was beginning to garner attention.
In 2013 Kazmir parlayed a strong spring training performance into a spot in the Indians’ rotation, which resulted in 158 innings of the best innings he’d pitched since 2006:
IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP 2006 144.2 10.14 3.24 0.93 0.310 77.00% 42.00% 9.90% 3.24 3.36 3.48 2013 158 9.23 2.68 1.08 0.324 73.40% 40.90% 11.60% 4.04 3.51 3.36
Indeed Kazmir posted the best K/BB (3.45), GB/FB (1.13), and SIERA/xFIP rates (3.38 and 3.36, respectively) of his career. His fastball velocity returned to 93.5 mph, which was 6th overall amongst LHP (min. 500 pitches). Furthermore, his fastball generated the third most swings, the 7th most whiffs per swing, and the 11th most ground balls.
Even more exciting was that his slider, change, and cutter all registered above-average numbers when compared to all pitchers from 2013:
2013 Overall Pitcher Rankings
Velocity H-Mvt V-Mvt Swing Rate Whiff/Swing Fouls/Swing GB/BIP Fastball (min. 500) 36th 16th 35th 12th 26th 5th T-15th Slider (min. 200) 53rd 61st 22nd 15th 27th 64th T-18th Change (min. 200) 77th 36th 53rd 48th 33rd 31st T-21st Sinker (min. 200) 42nd 47th 17th 71st 11th 9th T-28th
Fantasy Implications of the Scott Kazmir Rebound
Rediscovering his mechanics, along with work ethic and improved command, has led many fantasy owners to ask, “what can I expect from Kazmir this season?”
It’s clear the velocity and fastball are back, and Kaz has a legitimate four-pitch arsenal, which translated into a new 2 year/$22M contract with Oakland. He’s exceptional (as in historically so) with men on base, and despite righties hitting .254/.344/.430 off of him in his career, he plays in a park that will help minimize damage against his below average ground-ball and above average fly ball tendencies.
Oakland Coliseum is especially unforgiving against left-handed hitters (the third worst park for lefty homers) and Kazmir has shredded lefties throughout his career (.227/.293/.341 career against). At present, the American League West has no shortage of left-handed power hitters including Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, and Robinson Cano. Kazmir plus his home park equals trouble for those hitters.
While ZiPS is projecting a return to 2006-level command problems (3.25 BB/9), I have high expectations the Scott Kazmir rebound will exhibit similar command from 2013 and an above-average K-rate. He’s also in the right organization to maintain or exceed expectations. Steamer is the most optimistic of the bunch, giving Kazmir 11 wins, 3.67 ERA, an 8.44 K/9, and a 2.91 BB/9. These all seem like attainable goals in 2014 with the slight possibility for more depending on his health.
Considering his current ADP of 262 overall (taken around Alex Wood, Dan Haren, and Jarrod Parker) there is definitely value to be had here. I’d have no problems investing in Kaz this year while the buy-low window is still slightly open; he could return top 30-40 SP value for a fraction of the cost.
What are your thoughts? Will the Scott Kazmir rebound continue? Subscribe to ROTOscouting for more in-depth coverage of fantasy baseball, prospects, and MLB analysis than anywhere on the web. Follow me on Twitter (@Roto_Joe) to continue the conversation.
 Check out the link to see some interesting before-and-after GIFs of Kazmir.
18 Mar 2014 / Joseph Pytleski / 4
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