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Scouting Kazmir: Reasons for optimism, but caution needed

Kazmir has hold on fifth spot in rotation, but still needs work

Scouting Kazmir: Reasons for optimism, but caution needed
March 12, 2013
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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.

User Comments

Andy
March 13, 2013 - 3:33 PM EDT
It will be interesting to see if much ever comes of Command F/X to track a pitch's location relative to where the catcher sets up. I know there is some deception involved when runners are on base and such, but given a big enough sample size I would think that some useable information would be found.
Tony
March 13, 2013 - 2:13 PM EDT
Andy, I still believe the infrequent use of his secondary stuff has more to do with him getting a better feel for him fastball command. I think the secondary stuff will be there to some degree....it is showing consistency with the fastball command to be more consistently on the plate and avoiding the big misses which is the big key and something he is really honing in on. I do understand that he has always been susceptible to walks in the past even when he was good, but he was missing big all day with his pitches. There is a difference between command and location, so maybe the more appropriate term might be that he has to hone in on the command but also really nail down the location so he is not missing so big. Marson had to move his glove a good few feet on several pitches. That's the separator for minor leaguers.....and will be the separator for him in showing he can not just have solid command/location in any given game, but on most nights.
Andy
March 13, 2013 - 1:23 PM EDT
Great analysis, Tony. Kazmir has always relied heavily on his fastball. Does the infrequent use of his breaking and off-speed stuff worry you more because he still doesn't have a feel for them or because relying on his fastball with iffy command will lead to terrible outings?
shy
March 12, 2013 - 10:11 PM EDT
Sage comment there Chip, but a hitter's patience is often trumped by masterful pitching. Sometimes you see a pitcher throw crap and assume the batters are helping him out by swinging at it. In the case of Zito and Kazmir- when they're in the zone as it were-the mind-set is why throw meatballs when you can get them to swing at crap in meatball dressing. They vibe in on each batter and sense how they can tweak the pitch to tempt them and miss their bats. Greg Maddox was the same way. When Kazmir is right- and he seems like he is right now- the batters don't pick up the velocity or break on his pitches out of his hand and that's why they are swinging at quite a few pitches that finish out of the zone- that's good stuff. Looks like he's got a leg up on Carrasco and Bauer to make the O.D. roster, I think we're going to get a chance to see how much of this is mastery and how much is luck.
Chip
March 12, 2013 - 5:55 PM EDT
I'll have concern with his control when he can't adjust to hitters being more patient. For now, they can't pick the ball up when it's released and the results are "guess swings". If he keeps it around the zone he'll be fine and his stuff looks filthy. He's definately got me cautiously optimistic and the ball doesn't move as well in the dry air of Arizona. I think he'll pitch even better in the humid weather of Ohio.
Tommy
March 12, 2013 - 5:53 PM EDT
I really agree with Tony's analysis here. I posted the same thing last evening -- Kazmir was missing the catcher's glove a lot and somehow snuck some bad breaking balls by guys. His spring has been very encouraging, however.
shy
March 12, 2013 - 3:42 PM EDT
Look you take a guy who was pitching semi-pro in Sugarland Texas last year- and not effectively even there- what's the chance of him making a major league roster this year. 1 in 75 sounds about right. I watched the video yesterday. I've also watched a lot of Barry Zito the last few years. Many similarities in the way they attack hitters and Kazmir is about 5MPH faster. If he can make 20 starts and keep an ERA somewhere around 4 the Indians have hit paydirt. Maybe David Huff needs to go pitch in Sugarland and get his mind right.
Roger
March 12, 2013 - 3:28 PM EDT
to compare oliver perez and scott kazmir is like comparing josh hamilton and the ranger rt cruz. kazmir was not that long ago a premier pitcher again before the 2012 season we were willing to give 7 million to the then fausto carmona based on one great season in 2007, and kazmir was far far far better than fausto. Only in 2007 was fausto a premier pitcher. At Tampa Bay kazmir was the number one started and james shields was a distant number 2. I dont think that is a good comparison, and we were so bad in all 5 starters in 2012 so only one way to go is up. i hope i am right and you are wrong and in no way do i think of myself in your league as evaluator
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.
Jwahoo
March 12, 2013 - 3:23 PM EDT
If he is able to pitch like a 3rd or 4th starter like you said I will be very happy. It allows one of the top 4 guys to get injured or not perform as we will have Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer in waiting. Hopefully Francona and Co. have some tough choices ahead of them.
Seth
March 12, 2013 - 2:47 PM EDT
I don't think Kazmir ever had good, or even okay, command. Even when he was going right he issued a lot of walks and didn't pitch very deep into games. Career walk rate is over 4 per 9.
Mike
March 12, 2013 - 1:51 PM EDT
That analysis is right on target in my opinion, and I'd bet even Kazmir agreed would find much to agree with in it. Long way to go, but there are reasons for optimism. One thing I liked about his start was the number of soft hits, since it looked as if the Angels were having problems zeroing in on the pitches. Of course, I really want to be optimistic so it's hard to resist the feeling in March.
Jake
March 12, 2013 - 12:53 PM EDT
I watched the out pitches on mlb.com and it wasnt good. I counted only 2 times out of 12 did he actually come close to hitting the intended spot. Twice to josh hamilton the catcher was setup low and away and he missed up and in. Thats a massive lack of command or control of his pitches. I do like the success he is having and the point he is averaging around 91 mphon his fasrball is encouraging but if he misses like that in a regular season game hell be a sugarland skeeter by june 1st.
Tony
March 12, 2013 - 12:29 PM EDT
Daingean, I agree. Problem is Kazmir was often behind in the count and he was just flat out missing up and away. Not purpose pitches at all.
Daingean
March 12, 2013 - 12:27 PM EDT
Pitches up in the zone can sometime be purposeful especially if a pitcher is ahead in the count. The old "climb the ladder" on hitters works even in the MLB level. It also sets up other pitches by changing the batters' eye level. Now I didn't watch the game. Certainly pitches belly high get tagged for 3-run home runs.

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