Oakland Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir did it again. After an amazing comeback in 2013, Kazmir proved his gains were legitimate. Kazmir not only improved his ERA and FIP during the second year of his comeback, but managed to stay healthy enough to log 190.1 innings. The only time Kazmir have ever thrown more innings was back in 2007. On top of all that, Kazmir is 31, meaning he’s not necessarily a candidate for decline just yet.
We can’t just push aside Kazmir’s past, though. Injuries defined his early career, forcing him out of the game during the 2011 season. That year, he was topping out at 88 mph on his sinker, according to BrooksBaseball.net. While the comeback has been inspiring, Kazmir is still an issue with a lot of baggage. Can fantasy owners trust him moving forward?
First off, we need to take a look what is fueling Kazmir’s success. It’s nearly unprecedented that a pitcher could be forced from the game throwing 88 mph only to return two seasons later throwing 93 mph, but that’s exactly what happened with Kazmir. As Kyle Boddy pointed out in this HardballTimes article, Kazmir attended Ron Wolforth’s baseball ranch in order to hone his skills. Whether or not Kazmir learned this from Wolforth, there’s also been plenty of evidence that he’s made changes to his delivery. It’s plausible that both of those things helped Kazmir regain his velocity. It also probably helped that Kazmir had a year to rest his beaten-down arm.
He’s also mixed up his repertoire. Kazmir came back throwing a sinker way more often than he had in the past. Prior to 2013, Kazmir threw his sinker just 14.63% of the time. That figure has jumped to 24.56% of the time over the past two seasons. The pitch serves a couple different roles for Kazmir. It’s a plus-offering, according to Pitch Values, so it’s clearly helping in that regard. It’s also a pitch Kazmir can throw in the strike zone.
One of the other big areas where Kazmir has shown improvement is with his walk rate. Prior to 2013, Kazmir consistently posted walk rates in the double-digits. He was a good pitcher, but he wasn’t going deep into games due to control issues. While he’s not an elite control pitcher now, Kazmir has posted career-low walk rates in each of the past two seasons.
The sinker has definitely played a role in this development. Kazmir threw his sinker for a strike 35.09% of the time in 2014, the highest rate among all his pitches. He wasn’t as good in 2013, but his sinker still led the way at 30.51%, according to BrooksBaseball.net. Prior to 2013, the last time Kazmir threw a pitch for a strike at least 30% of the time was way back in 2007.
The bigger unknown, and possibly the bigger concern, is injuries. Kazmir had a tough time staying healthy earlier in his career, and it nearly put him out of the league at age-27. While he’s been able to stay healthy the past two years, he had a stretch in August that looked troublesome. Kazmir stopped striking guys out, saw his walk rate jump and started giving up a ton of home runs. Given his lack of work the past couple seasons, it was reasonable to think maybe his workload was a problem. Things seemed to get back to normal in September, but it’s still a worry going forward. On top of that, injuries happen. Kazmir has made strides to clean up his delivery, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. Injuries are going to be a concern with every pitcher, but Kazmir should probably be considered an elevated risk given his history.
The good thing is, the performance should be there. Kazmir’s reliance on the sinker has played a major role in his comeback, and that looks like something owners can count on in 2015. Health will always be a concern, but Kazmir should produce when healthy once again.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.