Pitcher Scott Kazmir, the once-prized prospect, has fallen upon some hard times, posting atrocious statistics in 2010.
A nine win and 15 loss campaign was very reminiscent of Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, with his 10 wins and 15 losses. Deep down, Burnett still has that ability, that “gunslinger” mentality, as well as an arsenal of pitches that, when on, are as good as anybody’s in the game.
Kazmir, on the other hand, has been on a free-fall for the past two plus seasons.
Between 2005 and 2008, Kazmir could have been considered a top-five lefty in the game. He posted nearly 10 strikeouts a game, relying on a mid-nineties fastball and a devastating slider that had batters spinning like tops. However, injuries have depleted the lefty, and exposed some major weaknesses.
Injuries and a lack of aggressiveness have always been two flaws focused on by scouts. Injuries will happen, but his unwillingness to be aggressive, obviously hidden by his “stuff,” is now looked upon as a deterrent and cannot be ignored.
Kazmir has always walked a lot of batters, but now the lack of velocity is accentuating his inability to throw strikes at inopportune times, resulting in some very ugly numbers.
In the last two years, his hits per nine innings have risen to 9.48, while his WHIP has peaked at 1.58.
This, of course, leads us to the root cause: A decline in velocity.
A once-dominant fastball (93.7 mph) and slider (84.0 mph) have turned relatively common, now clocking in at 90.5 mph and 80.9 mph, respectively.
This, of course, does not bode well for one with a history of shaky control. Once able to dominate with a change of speeds, Kazmir now has to creep closer to the strike zone, where all the damage is being committed.
According to FanGraphs, Kazmir’s O-contact percentage is at its low point of 24.2 percent, meaning batters are not fooled by what he is tossing up to the plate.
On the other hand, his Z-contact percentage has hit an all-time high of 87.9 percent (2009, 86.4). Z-contact percentage is defined as Percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone.
In other words, batters are teeing off on all pitches, regardless of speed, location, and variety.
In spring training, it will be very interesting to see what the Los Angeles Angels plan on doing with the former first-round pick.
Kazmir has one year left on a guaranteed contract worth $12 million for the upcoming 2011 season.
They can’t just release him, but can they use him as trade bait?
All signs point to no.
Turning 27, Kazmir should be entering the prime of his career. He really has nothing to lose at this point, except maybe a non-existent starting rotation spot.
We have witnessed the lack of confidence that the World Champion San Francisco Giants had in Barry Zito; is that where Kazmir is now headed? Will he be used in mop-up duty, or in meaningless mid-June games?
I, personally, cannot wait to see what happens. He was a first-round pick for a reason, and has performed like one for the most part. Now it is time to prove all the writers wrong, disprove all scouting reports claiming he is washed up, and rewrite the book on his career.
A true pitcher will learn from this and become better. Kazmir must learn how to pitch effectively, hit his spots, get ground balls, and get the job done.
Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective