Lost: A Look At Scott Kazmir’s Declining Velocity and Decreasing Sliders
By Tommy Rancel //
Last season, Scott Kazmir‘s potential became too expensive for the Tampa Bay Rays. Through injuries and inconsistency, Kazmir was never able to regain his pre-2008 ace form. With more than $20 million guaranteed to the lefty, Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman could no longer bank on just potential.
In a semi-controversial move, the organization traded the most successful pitcher in the franchise’s history to the deeper-pocketed Los Angeles Angels in what many casual fans considered a “salary dump.” However, looking at the quality of the three players Tampa Bay received – Sean Rodriguez, Alex Torres, and Matt Sweeney – and the early-season struggles of Kazmir, it seems the Rays pulled the trigger just in time.
In Los Angeles, Kazmir has reunited with former pitching coach Mike Butcher. Butcher spent one season with the (Devil) Rays in 2006. It just so happened to be one of Kazmir’s best seasons; his 3.24 ERA that season is still a career best. Looking at fielding independent pitching (FIP), which takes defense out of the equation, instead measuring walks, strikeouts and home runs, his 3.36 mark that season was a career best as well.
There was hope that once re-united with Butcher, some of the inconsistencies that plagued Kazmir in 2008 and 2009 would disappear. More importantly, there was hope that his once dominant slider as well as his mid-90s fastball would reappear.
The early returns on Kazmir in Los Angeles were very good. In six starts down the stretch last season, he went 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA and 2.93 FIP. He used his slider a healthy 19.1% of the time and his fastball velocity jumped from 90.7 with the Rays to 92.5 with the Angels; potential signs that Kazmir might put it together in 2010.
Unfortunately, things are not going according to plan this season. Despite his respectable 2-2 record, Kazmir has a 7.11 ERA and a 6.43 FIP thus far. A former American League strikeout champion (2007), Kazmir is on pace to strike out fewer than eight batters per nine innings for the second straight season. While his strikeouts have slightly faded, his walk rate is climbing. He has handed out 16 free passes in just 25.1 innings – a walks per nine innings rate of 5.7.
Kazmir is throwing his fastball around 90 mph right now and is using his slider just 8.2% of the time – a career low. In a slight bit of good news, Kazmir has developed a pretty good change-up. However, between the change-up and fastball, he’s basically a two-pitch starter right now.
It should be noted that Kazmir did battle with a hamstring and (another) arm injury this spring, but one would think the Angels wouldn’t send him out there if he wasn’t 100%. After all, he is still owed more than $20 million. Whether the problem is physical (meaning delivery) or mental, Scott Kazmir just isn’t very good right now.
If you drafted Kazmir, hopefully you took past history into account and didn’t select him with the intent of anchoring your rotation. Despite the ups and downs of the past few seasons, he has won double-digit games five straight years. With two wins already, he should get there again. Meanwhile, if you’re expecting the Kid K of 2007, you’re going to end up disappointed. At this point of the season, it is too early to dump him outright, but it may be time to take a page out of Andrew Friedman’s book, and get what you can in a trade instead of banking on potential that may never pay off.
For more on Scott Kazmir and the Los Angeles Angels, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.