Scouting Kazmir: Reasons for optimism, but caution needed
Kazmir has hold on fifth spot in rotation, but still needs work
Left-hander Scott Kazmir has been the talk of Indians camp.
Over three spring games and one “B” game Kazmir has thrown 11.0 shutout innings and allowed eight hits, two walks, and has 13 strikeouts. From a numbers perspective, he has certainly been impressive.
But the danger of spring training is not too much can often be gleaned from the numbers.
Starting pitchers may end up throwing 20-25 innings at most over the entire spring, which is not much of a sample size to really pull any confident data from. It is why clubs often use a pitcher’s side sessions and how they actually look in a game as the main tools to evaluate them in spring training. The stats are a part of that evaluation, but are merely a secondary measure.
Case in point: Kazmir’s outing on Monday.
The positive vibe in social media continued after Kazmir’s four innings of shutout work on Monday against the Angels. The game was aired on tape delay by MLB Network at 3 am ET in the morning on Tuesday, and for a few Tribe fans that have MLB Network or who bothered to watch it live or DVRed it, it was the first chance to actually “see” him pitch.
I watched the game and came away encouraged by Kazmir’s outing, but there are some very real danger signs that show he still has a long way to go at proving himself a viable option for the rotation.
For as good as Kazmir’s line was on Monday, his actual performance was only so-so. He really benefitted from an Angels lineup that was overaggressive and helped him out on several pitches that were out of the zone. By my count he threw 41 of his 63 pitches for strikes, which looks good on the surface if you did not see the game, but his command was inconsistent and he had some problems locating his fastball arm side.
At least ten of those strikes were swing and misses or balls put in play on pitches that were well out of the zone above the shoulders. Again, the Angels were helping him out which happens at times and could be a sign of deception, but it is also a danger sign. Working up in the zone like that is going to hurt him down the road at some point either with walks (he easily could have had another two or three walks in the outing) or as he brings the ball down from the shoulders to the letters could lead to harder contact. (For some video of what I am saying, check out some video Fangraphs put up of his start on Monday).
Kazmir really labored through a 25-pitch third inning, but to his credit he found a way to get out of it unscathed. He also was not helped by his defense as the one hit he gave up was a very fieldable groundball that went to the left of second base that Juan Diaz got a poor jump on. Asdrubal Cabrera easily fields that ball.
Kazmir mostly threw fastballs and I counted at most ten pitches that were of offspeed variety. He was inconsistent with the command of his offspeed stuff, but it had good movement and when he located it he really fooled Angels’ hitters. The overuse of his fastball was probably just something he and Indians personnel want him to work on with honing in on his fastball command.
While Kazmir had a lot of big misses up and away arm side and even some up and away opposite arm side, he did a good job of not leaving anything out over the plate, which is why he was able to work around his command issues as when the Angels did make contact it was not good, hard contact which lead to easy outs.
One former Indians scout working for another organization even made mention that after watching tape of Kazmir he reminds him of Frank Tanana (post-injury). Those who may recall, Tanana and Nolan Ryan anchored the Angels pitching staff in the mid-70s and he threw 100 MPH, but after an arm injury he no longer had the great power to his stuff but built a long career as a good finesse pitcher thanks to an excellent curveball.
Command issues aside, Kazmir looks good. His fastball was reportedly at 89-93 MPH yesterday and his delivery looks very fluid and smooth. Everything is certainly there for him to become more effective and have an incredible comeback year; whether or not that happens for him will come down to health and command.
Barring injury, Kazmir no doubt will be the Indians fifth starter to open the season, and rightfully so. He has shown enough this spring and has the pedigree where the Indians should see him through and give him a shot at the start of the season and see what happens.
But Kazmir will be on a short leash all season since he will have a minimal Major League contract, so the Indians will probably give him 8-10 starts to show what he can do and reassess things from there. That would give him until about mid-May to prove himself worthy of staying in the rotation long term, or if he is struggling the Indians could turn the page by releasing him and going with another starter such as Carlos Carrasco or Trevor Bauer.
It is an experiment worth pursuing, but the important thing for people to keep in mind is to be objective about his outings and be realistic at what Kazmir could really do. Sometimes we all want something to be more than what it is that we ignore the negatives and just focus on the positives, and thus lose that objectivity. We also know what he once was which leads to unrealistic expectations of him becoming a front of the rotation starter again rather than a more conservative view where maybe if he is back that he can be a good third or fourth starter.
If Kazmir proves over the course of the season that he can be effective enough to be a solid league average starting pitcher, then what a story it will be. If he comes back and becomes more? It would go down as the best signing of the offseason in what was a very productive offseason for the Indians, and could be what helps propel the Indians right into the thick of things for the playoffs.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
of talent. correct me if i am wrong but it seems to me one of two pirchers had zero runs scored off him in spring one year maybe 2008 either cliff lee or jake westbrook i cannot remember which one it was but if it was cliff lee we all know what happened to him in 2008. I know kazmir and lee or jake are different types of pirchers. however i do remember that cliff lee in 2005 finished 4th in the cy young award, and two years later he didnt even make the playoff roster and was horrible pitcher so it can happen and every so often guys rebuilt careers. Lets romanticize that maybe 2013 it can happen for scott kazmir. Lee is better comparison than oliver perez.