First off, I need to do some house keeping when it comes to the All Free Agent Fantasy Team. Endy Chavez was released by the Royals, so he is off the team. The Mariners signed him, but there is no reason for me to re-sign him. The Padres also released Freddy Garcia, which was really surprising to me, but obviously he is gone as well. Next week will start the weekly updates on the team as next week teams set their 25 man rosters, and I will have to set mine as well, as the regular season is right around the corner. Next week will contain a lot of cut players as I try to figure out my roster. Also, and we have seen the same problem with Ryan Madson, Scott Baker has been shut down for 4-6 weeks. Since I have taken on the guaranteed money, and knew there would be risks, unless it gets even worse in the next week, he will just start on my 15 man minor league roster.
Now, in this article I want to talk about a guy that I didn’t sign, Scott Kazmir. Kazmir was let go by the Angels after one start in 2011 and hasn’t pitched in the minors or majors since then. He was a disaster last year in independent ball, which is why I didn’t sign him when the Indians gave him a minor league contract. However, since camp has started reports have been that his velocity is back to where it was a few years ago. He also looks like he will make the team, or is at least in serious competition for the Indians 5th spot in the rotation.
I watched a little of his last outing which was televised on MLB Network. It is my first time seeing him since seeing a little video of him in independent ball. It was not a great outing for Kazmir, and everything unraveled in the 5th. He threw a high fastball in the 5th to Raul Ibanez at 91 was crushed. Ibanez usually struggles against lefties. A hanging 81 MPH off-speed pitch was thrown right down the middle to Justin Smoak and crushed just foul. The very next hitter Kyle Seager drilled a ball to the wall. Minor leaguer Michael Dowd crushed a double to a wall in the next at-bat on a high fastball. His fastball looked really straight, the stuff looked average and the location wasn’t really there. However, it was also his first Pitch F/X outing, which may help us to dig a little deeper.
I took some unhelpful screenshots (most of them are blurry, but that is okay for our purposes) from videos on Youtube and the game. Since they are from different angles and at different times of the delivery, we should be very careful when making conclusions. First, here is Kazmir in high school:
Here is Kazmir as a Ray in 2007:
Here is Kazmir as a Sugarland Skeeter in 2012:
Here is him as an Indian:
In all the photos, it appears he has the slight back turn, or at least his leg is going to hide the ball slightly as it comes up (and it comes up quite a bit) and his shoulder is turned slightly, but not dramatically, to 1st base. His knee is also not pointed straight, it is pointed slightly between 1st and 2nd base. It has never been, and is still not, a long stride to the plate.
We don’t see the release point in the pictures, but Kazmir has seen some big difference in vertical release points. It looks like that it has sort of come back if his Pitch F/X outing is any indication:
He isn’t back to where he was in 2008 (in which he was actually releasing the ball a little bit higher than he was in 2007), but he seems to be at a little better level than he was in his last few outings in the Majors when he couldn’t get anyone out. Perhaps more importantly, Kazmir’s release point was very consistent:
However, it doesn’t seem like release point inconsistency was a huge problem for him anyway. Look at his last MLB game, in which he was an absolute disaster:
You can see that it isn’t quite as consistent, but it isn’t appalling so. You notice that it is about the same horizontally (maybe slightly out, but Kazmir is a guy who has always released the ball close to the center of the rubber. He has always been much tougher against lefties though), and a little lower vertically, and that may be the main problem.
Of course, a problem that is much bigger and more obvious than the release point change is the velocity. In 2007, Kazmir had a 93.24 MPH fastball. In 2010, it was down to 91.36 MPH. In his 2011 outing, his fastball was 88.3 MPH. In his outing against the Mariners, his fastball was 91.94 MPH on average, a good tick above league average, even more so when you consider that he is left-handed. When you look at left-handed starters in the big leagues since the Pitch F/X era began, and there have been 178 of them, Kazmir’s 91.94 MPH fastball is would be 43rd (in the top 1/4ths). This is right at where Wei-Yin Chen was last year, and Chen was worth almost a full win above an average pitcher last year. In fact, Chen is right below Kazmir (91.97 MPH) on a whole. Even if you add the bad Angels’ Kazmir, which is what tugged his overall velocity down so much to begin with, Kazmir was still worth 2.6 wins above an average pitcher in that span. That velocity is good. As far as fastball movement goes, it is a really good vertical fastball, and not much of a horizontal movement fastball, or at least that is what it looked like in his movement against the Mariners. His old fastball got better horizontal movement, but not as much vertical movement (though it should be emphasized that pitch movement is somewhat weird in Arizona at times). This isn’t as much overall movement as Chen.
What about Kazmir’s off-speed pitches? The most frequent one he threw was the slider at 80.95 MPH. This is obviously well below league average for a slider and would rank 85th out of 134 left-handed starter sliders. It was also thrown harder in 2010 and 2011. The movement also seems to be quite a bit difference, as it has been basically a vertical breaking pitch in the past, but against the Mariners, he threw a slider that had slight break both ways. It has always been a big part of his pitch selection, and that didn’t appear to be any different against the Mariners.
Interestingly, he seems to have added a curveball, something he didn’t have before (the MLB AM tags say he has thrown a handful of curves in two different seasons, but the manual tags disagree). Note that in this case, the manual tags added the curveball and not the MLB AM tags. Looking at his spin and rotation graph, it is really hard to see where the curves are. Curves usually have very little spin or rotation, and all of Kazmir’s pitches have spin and rotation. On a larger level, his spin + rotation graph is really interesting. His fastball and change got what is below average spin, and his slider got a lot more spin that you would expect. Just from looking at games from his prime, this seems somewhat normal for him. To me, this sort of rules out him throwing an actual curve, and that the MLB AM tags are right. This add them to the slider, which actually makes it slower, and actually a little less movement.
Of course, Kazmir also throws a changeup. It seems to have added a tick of velocity, even a little more than it had in previous years. Four of the nine he threw were actually swung through and six were thrown for strikes in total.
One good thing that we saw from Kazmir is that he threw strikes especially with his fastball. In fact, if anything, he threw too many strikes. While you don’t want to throw too many strikes during the season, or else become too hittable, that is certainly preferred in a spring training game for Kazmir. In fact, he threw even more strikes later in the game, which is another good sign. Again, he was obviously pretty hittable.
I am concerned about that slider. Why has it lost velocity while his fastball has gained velocity, and what does the change in movement mean? With that said, he can throw 2 to 3 pitches for strikes, has a consistent and repeatable delivery, and has good velocity on two pitches from the left side. That seems like a recipe for a big league starter, at least one that can hold his own.