December 3, 2013
The Raising of Kazarus
Reached an agreement with LHP Scott Kazmir for two years and $22 million. [12/2]
The more you know about Scott Kazmir, the less you can really say is definitely true. If I give you his 3.5 FIP, tell you he’s 29 and struck out a batter per inning from the left side, that he didn’t even have classic left-hander control problems, it’d be hard to make the case against a short, relatively low-cost deal for him. In fact, it is hard to make that case! Pitchers get paid a lot, and this isn’t a bad deal.
But, like I said, the more you know. You know that Kazmir hadn’t been anywhere close to good for four years, that he was something like historically bad from 2011 to 2012, and that unless you give Bartoloesque weight to the most recent season he’s going to fare pretty poorly by any projection system with a memory. Indeed, PECOTA says below replacement going forward.
You also know that Kazmir’s ERA didn’t match his peripherals. It’s only one year, you know, so you’re inclined to trust that he’s not one of those rare FIP all-stars who stays around the zone at the expense of getting hit hard. But he did get hit fairly hard; his line drive rate was high, his home run/FB rate was high, he also gave up an above-average number of doubles, he had big platoon splits, he was hit much harder than the average pitcher when he was behind in the count. He’s got the profile of a player who might be more about his ERA than his FIP, and that’s the difference between above and below average.
The man he’s likely to replace in the Oakland rotation is an interesting comp. Both Kazmir and Bartolo Colon were stars, then disappeared and were left for dead (and out of BP Annuals), and then came back showing surprising competence and more velocity than they had washed out with. Each pitcher’s track record made him a relative bargain for his performance, but each pitcher carried extra risk. Colon got Cy Young votes this year, his second (and likely last) with the A’s. Like Colon, Kazmir is not quite the same pitcher he used to be—more strikes, a developed changeup, a cutter to show lefties, but a less electric fastball—but also not something entirely new.
But I might prefer a comp with a little less narrative similarity and a bit more performance similarity. Here’s Kazmir last year, and Jeff Samardzija in 2012:
The Kaz: 158 IP, 9.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 4.04 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 23% LD rate
Each pitcher lives in the strike zone—52 percent zone rate for each—and each struggled with the luck and/or hard-hit-ball portions of performance, with Kazmir’s BABIP coming in high and both pitchers’ HR/FB rates coming in high. The repertoires and pitch usage are similar, though Shark throws a bit harder (and from the right side) and Kazmir has a changeup instead of a split. For good measure, there is some narrative resemblance, with Samardzija coming back from his own version of dead.
Shark’s FIP stayed the same in 2013, so give a pat on the back to those who had faith that his click as a pitcher was real. His ERA, meanwhile, went even higher, as he continued to give up more home runs and base hits than he’s supposed to.
That’s not to say that’s the only thing that could happen to Kazmir, or that it’s the most likely thing. But Kazmir, for all our familiarity with him, is essentially still a complete unknown at this point. Assuming anything about him based on one year’s FIP is probably madness.
Seems like a pretty good move for the A’s, though.
The first thing we all default to is assuming that a move to Oakland is a net positive for a starting pitcher, but the park factors in this case actually suggest otherwise. Kazmir struggles most with right-handed batters, and the Coliseum was a better place for them to hit than Progressive Field. However, whatever incremental loss Kazmir might incur as a result, he’ll make back with a better defense behind him. (The A's ranked second in defensive efficiency last season, compared to Cleveland at no. 23.) Kazmir remains a risky proposition in fantasy, albeit one with upside. His peripherals (and strong finish to the season) suggest that he should be taken among the top 50 starters, but that move would have as much potential to hurt as it would to help. —Bret Sayre
Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @SamMillerBP