Is Scott Kazmir Worth the Gamble?
Scott Kazmir is one of the most interesting pitchers on the free agent market this off-season. Kazmir was a mainstay of the Tampa Bay rotation from 2004, his rookie season, through 2009 when the Rays traded him to Los Angeles. Kazmir was absolutely filthy in 2009 for the Angels, but 2010 and 2011 were unprecedented disasters, with Kazmir missing basically all of 2011 and 2012 due to injury and ineffectiveness. Kazmir’s demise was chronicled by Fangraphs, and it’s a great look into what ultimately became the downfall of a once great pitcher.
Kazmir is intriguing because prior to this season with Cleveland, he hadn’t thrown a pitch in an MLB game since April 3rd, 2011. Last year however, he was effective for Cleveland posting a 4.04 ERA over 158 innings. Not only that, but Kazmir’s FIP (3.51) and xFIP (3.36) suggest he was even better than that.
(Discuss whether you’d pursue Kazmir on the BSL Forums here.)
What made Kazmir different last season than the guy who was out of baseball for nearly two years? Well he cleaned up his mechanics a bit, and now features a delivery less focused on high effort, and more focused on efficiency. The two videos below show how Kazmir has cleaned up his delivery from his days with Tampa Bay to last year with Cleveland.
The videos show fairly clearly how Kazmir’s new delivery, while similar to his old one, requires less effort and is more easily repeatable. Kazmir’s new delivery is also more balanced than his 2009 version, and you can see that he now ends in proper fielding position, rather than falling off to the third base side of the mound.
All of these small changes in his mechanics go into making his delivery more repeatable which lends to better control. The numbers back this up, as Kazmir posted a career low 2.68 BB/9, roughly half a walk better than his next best season.
All of this matches up with a graph of Kazmir’s release point from 2013, which was remarkably consistent, as you can see below:
Each point, or dot, on that graph is one game from last season. The fact that nearly all of those dots are in the same portion of the graph: roughly 6 feet above the top of the mound and a foot to the right of the center of the rubber – indicates that his release point is very consistent. This is a sign of solid, repeatable mechanics, and makes it harder for opposing hitters to pick up different pitches.
It also allows him to go back and find velocity more easily, which means that diminishing velocity could be a thing of the past. You can see from the image below that Kazmir’s velocity actually increased as the season wore on, a positive sign for any team looking to sign him.
You can see above that Kazmir added a new wrinkle in May of last year, beginning to throw a cutter to go along with his 5 other offerings. From July 1 through the end of the season, Kazmir would throw his cutter over 8% of the time. Opposing batters would hit just .095 against his cutter, while slugging a meager .143. The sample size here, right around 125 pitches isn’t enough to say if the cutter is truly a new out pitch for Kazmir, but it is at worst another tool that he will have at his disposal to keep hitters off balance.
FanGraphs listed Kazmir as one of the best potential values on the free agent market with a projected contract of 2 years and $17 Million.
This would be one of the riskiest ways the O’s could invest $17 Million this offseason. We can’t simply ignore that Kazmir was out of baseball in 2011 and 2012 with shoulder issues. We can’t ignore that his velocity fell from 93 mph his rookie season to 87 mph in 2010/2011. We can’t ignore that his delivery was once the sole reason the Mets traded him to Tampa Bay in the first place (at Rick Peterson’s suggestion no less).
However, we also can’t ignore that Kazmir has the potential to be a 3 – 4 win player on a first division team. We can’t ignore that Kazmir could put up a 3.50 ERA in the AL East, and anchor a staff desperately in need of solid production from its 1, 2, and 3 starters.
If I were running the O’s, I’d take a gamble on a guy like Kazmir if I knew that I couldn’t go after the big names this offseason like Tanaka or Kuroda. Kazmir could easily produce $35 Million of value to the team over the next two years, just as easily as he could produce just $2 Million of value over that time.
No doubt this move comes with it’s fair share of risks. But the reward could also be far greater.