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This is the tale of two pitchers. It is the best of Scott Kazmir, and the worst of Scott Kazmir. On one hand, we have a pitcher that was nearly ace-quality, dominating the AL despite injury problems, and shining as a lone bright spot on a number of Tampa Bay Devil Rays teams that were not terribly good. On the other, we have a pitcher who continues to have injury problems, and who also appears to be losing his stuff, and certainly losing his near-ace status. Thankfully, the Angels didn’t trade any quality prospects for Scott Kazmir version 2.0, right?
From 2004, when Kazmir first came up with Tampa Bay, until 2007, the last year the team was known as the Devil Rays, he was a very good pitcher. Despite some injury issues, he averaged 24 starts per season, and posted a 3.64 ERA, a 9.7 K/9, and a 4.1 BB/9 across those four years. In 2008, looking to turn the corner from the terrible teams of the past, they changed their name to the Tampa Bay Rays, and as the Rays fortunes started heading up, Kazmir’s turned down. Injury issues again shortened Kazmir’s 2008, perhaps his last great season, and while he only made 27 starts, he finished with an ERA of 3.49 and an appearance at the All-Star Game. His FIP, however, was already on the rise, moving from 3.45 the year before to finish 2008 at 4.37. It was a sign of things to come.
As good as Kazmir’s 2004-2007 was, his 2008-May 2010 makes him look like an entirely different person. His ERA over that span was up to 4.42, his K/9 down to 8.4 (down further from 2009-May 2010 to 7.1), while his walk rate held the same at 4.1 BB/9. His HR rate, which had been at 0.8 HR/9, also climbed to 1.2 HR/9. His FIP, which had not moved higher than 3.76 since his first full season in the majors, has never dropped below 4.26 since 2008, and for 2010 currently sits at 6.05. In fact, most all of his peripheral numbers show a decline from 2008 onward. His LOB% (Left On Base Percentage, or how often he strands runners on base) has fallen from the mid-70% range to the mid-60% range. His FB%, which has hovered right around 40%, is now up between 45-50%. His GB%, which was in the low 40% range, is now in the low 30% range. Perhaps adding insult to injury, his BABIP is actually better from 2008 forward than it is for 2004-2007, which would not be what you would expect given the clear differences in performance.
What does all this mean for Kazmir, and the Angels, going forward? It’s hard for me to imagine the Angels coming out winners in the deal for Kazmir, which sent Sean Rodriguez, Alex Torres, and Matt Sweeney to the Rays and left the Angels paying Kazmir $28.5MM, plus an additional $13.5MM if his 2012 option is exercised. As much of a bargain as Kazmir was at the beginning of his career, he may just the opposite now.
On the performance side, there’s utterly nothing to indicate to me that we’ll see the return of the 2004-2007 Scott Kazmir. He’s averaged four fewer starts in that time than the beginning of his career because of further injury problems, and that’s likely to be an issue that sticks with him. I think we’re likely to see Kazmir finish 2010 with an ERA around 4.50, a FIP of about 4.30, see his K’s drop to about 115 for the season due to his eroding stuff, and pitch no more than 155 innings for us. The near-ace Kazmir is a thing of the past, and the expectation that he’ll return to that form needs to go with it.