The Scott Kazmir story has the potential to become one of the better headlines this season. After establishing himself as one of the premier young pitchers, the lefty quickly — and unexpectedly — declined, so much so that after finishing tenth with a 5.1 fWAR in 2007 he was out of baseball just over four seasons later.
His fastball velocity declined, taking with it his once elite strikeout rates. His controlled regressed. His ERAs ballooned.
And after a less than stellar showing during his rebirth in the big leagues against Houston last weekend, Kazmir looked, well, better.
His fastball, which sat in the 91-92 range and topped out at 94, grades out as a 55 and generated quite a few swings-and-misses through his five innings of work. But just like his start against the Astros, he struggled commanding the pitch, often leaving it belt-high and above over the plate.
He showed good arm action on his changeup, resulting in more than a few cue-shots off the end of several bats. He even mixed in a slow 72 mph curve twice in the latter part of the game.
The problem, however, is his slider, a once plus complementary pitch.
I spent the summer of 2007 working as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, and this, coincidentally enough, became the peak season of Kazmir’s career (206.2 IP, 10.41 K/9, 3.88 BB/9, and a 5.1 fWAR). In addition to my responsibilities — pitch charting, game charting, etc…– I started writing scouting reports for each pitcher.
And those reports, spanning 200 or so pages, had been tucked away for the last five years.
I decided to dig the binder out, wondering what I had written about Kazmir back then. And, unfortunately, his arsenal isn’t all the way back quite yet.
Both his fastball and changeup looked similar yesterday to what I had written in 2007: 90-94 with good, explosive life and 79-82 with good arm action and the potential to become a very reliable out-pitch. His slider, I wrote, was tightly-spun and hard, sitting in the 83-84 range and touching as high as 87. That was not the same pitch Kazmir’s shown during either of his first two starts.
Now it’s more loosely-spun, more slurvy. It doesn’t show consistent two-plane break either. And it comes in a touch slower too. He managed to tie up a few hitters with it — particularly Alex Gordon in the first and Jeff Francouer in the fourth — but, for me, it doesn’t have that same zest it once did.
Overall, this was a nice bounce back start for Kazmir. His pitch count — 99 through five innings — was largely helped by a seven-pitch third. Not too many balls were hit hard (Eric Hosmer had two of them). And Sal Perez’s oppo-homerun was the result of a high and outside fastball and a flick of the wrist.
Scott Kazmir wasn’t dominant, nor did he look like the same pitcher he once was. But he did show enough to convince me that he can become a serviceable backend guy going forward, maybe a touch better if he can learn to locate his fastball better.