At one point, Scott Kazmir was pure awesome. A young, cost-controlled lefty power arm stood as Tampa Bay’s ace, settled into a solid mid-rotation starter, and soon began the Raysian formula of converting your starters into a plethora of cheaper players.
As Kazmir got expensive, his arm disintegrated. He spent two seasons and a half with Anaheim, and was good for a half, including the playoffs. Darn tootin’ he was the lefty manager Mike Scioscia needed to overcome a mini-curse against the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs.
And then suddenly, he lost velocity. Kazmir coupled that with an inability to throw strikes.
In truth, by the time the Rays traded him for Sean Rodriguez, Alex Torres and minor leaguer Matt Sweeney (not a Sweeney brother), Kazmir was old news, supplanted by David Price, James Shields and Matt Garza. The existence of Jeff Niemann made him all but expendable.
Kazmir may not have cost the Angels much in prospects, though it was the type of corrosive additions that followed during and after his two crappy seasons that dared to defy his legacy.
Three seasons after a World Series appearance and being the centerpiece of one of the all-time lopsided deals* Kazmir was essentially out of the game.
*The Rays got him for Victor Zambrano. From the New York Mets. Surprise, surprise.
At least the version that we watch.
He attempted to make a comeback in the independent leagues and pitched 14 games for the Sugar Land Skeeters, which sound familiar to you because Roger Clemens teased a comeback and threw them a couple of innings.
No one else noticed but a Puerto Rican team.
Down there, Kazmir found his magic, regaining the mythical 94 mph to 95 mph he used to throw his lefty fastball with, blubber blubber! Yeah, so he allowed a 4.37 ERA, though he struck out more batters than innings pitched.
The Indians noticed and reaped the benefits of the minor league invite who took Daisuke Matsuzaka’s job in 2013.
Kazmir wasn’t the same as the lefty who burned through batters the two seasons he averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
So yeah, he punched out a lot of batters in his comeback but ultimately settled for a 93 adjusted ERA, or statistically below league average.
He had his moments though, and while Kazmir would implode in some starts, he’d shine in others. His innings count seems limited at this point — Terry Francona was wise to not let greed overcome the counter intuitive but no less tempting decision to get as much out of a good comeback story.
Kazmir succeeded mostly because he was used right.
The uptick in strikeout totals and average. Slashing his walk rates to an all time best strikeouts-to-walk ratio is encouraging. And once again Kazmir is going to a team that’s been pretty good at maximizing Brian Kenny’s so-called “half players.”
Oakland splurged by giving Kazmir two years at $22 million, though that’s pretty much on balance by league standards. Shave some years off and buy it off by a slightly bigger annual average, and Billy Beane managed to buy into the third-rate starters.
Phil Hughes and Jason Vargas are essentially being paid the same amount. The upside of those two, and the downside, are pretty much what Oakland’s getting with its new lefty. For two years less? Why the hell not.
Tempered expectations will put this in good light. No, Kazmir’s probably not the next Bartolo Colon, but yes, it could happen. Because he’s done it before, like Colon, Kazmir has a higher likelihood of being front-of-the-line material than either Hughes or Vargas. Quickly ranking the three’s upside, I’d go Kazmir, Hughes and then Vargas. On the flipside, if you want to rank the three based on consistency, you’d go Vargas, Hughes and Kazmir.
Billy Beane could be paying his team’s next ace $11 million a year, a grand bargain.If Kazmir bottoms out again, he won’t be around long enough to sink this enterprise.