Stats Don't Lie: Why Trading for Scott Kazmir was a Bad Move for the LA Angels

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Stats Don't Lie: Why Trading for Scott Kazmir was a Bad Move for the LA Angels
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

They say numbers don't tell the whole story, but whoever said that didn't talk to a Sabermetrics expert.

Scott Kazmir, the former first round pick out of high school by the New York Mets, now former ace of the Tampa Bay Rays, is headed to the Angels, who are in the middle of the playoff race with the Texas Rangers.

On paper, it looks like a good move for the Angels. He hasn't been all too good this year, but overall in his short career Kazmir has been a terrific pitcher. Unfortunately for the Angels, the numbers may show us in advance that Kazmir is in for a rough future.

In return for their ace, the Rays receive 21-year-old pitcher Alexander Torres, who is 13-4 with a 2.75 ERA in the minor leagues this year, as well as third baseman Matthew Sweeney, who hit .299 with nine home runs and 44 RBI in the advanced A-level this year.

The Rays will be sending along no additional money to pay for Kazmir's contract, which will free up at least $20M, which the Rays would like to spend on additional players to bolster the team.

They say stats don't tell the whole story, but it looks like addition by subtraction to me.

Kazmir, just 25, has an impressive career 3.92 ERA to go with 55 wins in 144 starts since breaking in with the Rays in 2005. Preceding that move, Kaz was flipped to the Devil Rays at the 2004 non-waiver trade deadline for Bartolome Fortunato and Victor Zambrano.

From 2005 on to 2008, the Mets would come to greatly regreat that deal. Kazmir had developed into a highly talented young ace down in Florida, while Zambrano ended a terrible stint with the Mets by the end of the 2006 season.

Fortunato would compile an ERA of 7.06 with the Mets in 21 innings of work between 2004 and 2006. Fortunato missed the whole '05 season with a herniated disk. Fortunato hasn't pitched in the Bigs since 2006, and the 35-year-old is now bouncing around independent league teams.

They say statistics don't tell the whole story, but I think it's safe to say "they" didn't ask any Mets fans.

For a four year window, this trade looked like a hell of a heist for the Rays, even bordering along the lines of grand larceny.

The stats don't tell the whole story, they say, and that is true to an extent. However, the recent trends in the ups and downs of Kazmir's numbers and ratios are not painting a pretty picture, but rather more like a toddler's attempt at painting Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Kazmir, who was at one point among one of the most dominant arms in the game, has recently started sliding down a slippery slope of regression since his remarkable 2007 season.

Going 13-9 for a Devil Rays team that won only 66 games and finished last in the American League in attendance, Kazmir also compiled a 3.48 ERA while notching 239 strikeouts.

Heading into the 2008 season, the Rays announced an agreement between the two parties for a four-year contract with a 2012 option. $28.5 million is guaranteed to Kazmir in the contract, but the maximum value of the deal is around $39 million.

Kazmir didn't start his 2008 season until May due to a strained elbow, but still managed a very similar stat line to his impressive 2007 year. Kazmir finished with a 12-8 mark with a 3.49 ERA in 27 starts.

Suffering a strained left quadriceps as well as what he called mechanical problems, Kazmir has been miserable this year. The fall-off has been a year in the works, however, when one looks at some ratios and pitch data.

They say stats don't paint the whole picture, but some of Kazmir's ratios and percentages paint a picture so ugly it could rival only Sam Cassel in an ugly-off.

In 2008, Kazmir "lost his slider." Between 2004 and 2007, a combined 21.65 percent of Kazmir's thrown pitches were sliders, but in Kazmir changed up, so to speak, tossing a slider only 9.6 percent of the time.

Furthermore, his percentage of fastballs thrown shot up from 64.65 percent between 2004-2007 to 75.3 percent in 2008.  Also, Kazmir threw a change up 15.1 percent of the time compared to 12.97 from 2004-2007.

Also, 2008 marked the start of a scary new trend in Kazmir's pitch data: a steady decrease in velocity.

Between 2004 and 2007, Kazmir averaged 92.5 MPH on his fastball, 83.55 MPH on his slider, and 82.37 MPH on his change up. In 2008, Kazmir was averaging 91.7 MPH, 82 MPH, and 78.8 MPH on each pitch, respectively.

The trend has continued into this season, as Kazmir's heater has hovered at 90.7 MPH, his slider at 81.1 MPH, while his change has clocked in at 79.3 MPH.

Since his first full season in 2005, Kazmir has lost 1.9 MPH on his fastball, 2.4 MPH on his slider, and 3.5 MPH on his change up.

Subsequently, Kazmir has gone from being an elite strikeout pitcher to an extreme contact pitcher.

This year, Kazmir's contact percentage has gone way up from an average of 73.05 percent between 2004 and 2007 to 75.5 percent in 2008 and now 81.1 percent this year.

Along with a higher rate of contact, Kazmir's ground ball rate has dropped like a rock. Through 2007, Kazmir had a nice 41.8 ground ball percentage, while that number dropped to 30.8 percent in 2008 and has risen slightly to 36.1 percent this year.

In 2009, Kazmir has been more hittable than at any other point of his career. As of August 28, Kazmir has allowed a career worst 9.8 hits per nine innings. His 7.4 K/9 is his worst yet, while his home run rate has plateaued and his walk rate has risen to a level not seen since 2005.

After getting tagged for a career high 1.4 home runs per nine innings in 2008, Kazmir has followed up this year allowing 1.2 per nine, compared to a stellar 0.8 HR/9 during his fantastic 2007 season.

As for hits allowed per nine innings, Kazmir has seen that number take a U-turn in the past three seasons. After an 8.5 figure in 2007, Kaz dipped to a career low 7.3 H/9 in 2008, now rising to a career high 9.8 this year.

While his pitch data has been alarming, perhaps nothing has been a bigger surprise to me than his ever-deflating strikeout rate. From 2007 to 2009, Kazmir has dropped from an elite 10.4 K/9 to a pedestrian 7.4, which is under his career 9.4.

Following suit has been his strikeouts-per-walk ratio, which has since dropped from 2.69 to 1.82, with the lack of command Kazmir has always struggled with finally shining through, no longer possessing an overpowering fastball-slider combo to fall back on.

With durability issues nagging at Kazmir for the majority of his career, he has only been able to pitch 200 innings once in his career, in 2007. Otherwise, he has succumbed to an arm injury in 2006 and 2008, and a leg issue this year.

Using the linear regression equation y= ax+ b to fit Kazmir's escalating contact percentage, where a linear regression line has determined a to equal 1.89 and b to equal -3720.35, I have determined the following estimates for Kazmir's contact percentage for the remainder of his contract.

2010: 78.55 percent; Kazmir to make $8M on the season

2011: 80.44 percent; Kazmir to make $12M on the season

2012: 82.33 percent; $13.5M club option

Additionally, I will once again calculate a linear regression equation to project a potential further decrease in fastball velocity for Kazmir. In this instance, a equals -.5 and b equals 1095.367.

2010: 90.37 MPH

2011: 89.87 MPH

2012: 89.37 MPH

Over the remainder of his current contract, assuming Kazmir continues decline in a linear fashion like this, he stands to have a fastball velocity of around 89 MPH by 2012, a loss of nearly five miles per hour.

Going into the 2013 season, Kazmir will be 29, which should be the prime of his career. Instead, Kazmir projects to be deteriorating at an alarmingly fast rate for his age, but it is not too surprising given his durability issues.

Also, one term in Kazmir's contract stipulates that the pitcher be awarded an 800K bonus the first time he is traded during the terms of this contract, giving him a free reward for getting shipped across the country.

Assuming the 2012 club option is exercised and Kazmir stays with the Angels for the remainder of the contract, the Angels will have paid over $33M for a pitcher who projects to be pitching almost exclusively to contact, with an ever deteriorating K/9 and continual drop-off in velocity.

They say stats don't tell every side of the story, but given the manner in which Scott Kazmir has started to deteriorate, I would say that the Rays made a smart, cost effective move and the Angels may soon come to regret this decision.

Could the Tampa Bay Rays be the runaway winners of two trades involving Scott Kazmir? Only time will tell, but I like their chances.

 

*All statistical data acquired from FanGraphs.com

*Contract data acquired from Cot's Baseball Contracts (mlbcontracts.blogspot.com)

*If any of my calculations were incorrect, I would greatly appreciate it if you let me know about it and help me with the correct numbers, as the statistics area hasn't exactly been my mathematical strong point.

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