Remember when the Mets traded Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano? Predictably, the trade looked as horrible as we all thought it would through 2008, when Kazmir enjoyed four straight seasons of a sub-4.00 ERA fueled by his electric fastball-slider-change-up combination. But eventually, it seemed like the Mets may have known what they were doing after all, although there was still no excuse for such a poor return. In 2009 and 2010, Kazmir’s ERA approached 5.00 and 6.00, respectively, as he lost his fastball and his strikeout rate plunged. Fast forward to 2013 and if you had been asleep from 2009 to 2012, you would have thought you had missed nothing. Just another solid performance from the southpaw.
Given Kazmir’s struggles the last couple of years, it’s pretty amazing that he not only won a spot in the Indians rotation during spring training, but that he was good enough to rank 77th in fantasy value among starting pitchers. Of course, 77th in itself is not very impressive as it’s essentially the last starting pitcher on a team that earns just above replacement level.
But he earned that value having thrown just 158 innings. Amazingly, SIERA suggests that Kazmir’s skill package was the best it’s ever been. His strikeout rate was right where it sat during his peak younger years, but suddenly Kazmir flashed good control. His F-Strike% jumped to a career high and he posted his lowest ever walk rate. Even more encouraging is that his fastball velocity not only rebounded, but it was the highest since his first full season in 2005! That’s truly remarkable.
On the surface, Kazmir’s year was just mediocre, as a 4.04 ERA barely plays in mixed leagues and was actually worse than the league average. But, he suffered from an inflated .324 BABIP and a slightly higher than league average HR/FB ratio. We could probably say that he deserved the high BABIP given his 23.1% line drive rate, but that’s a fluky stat in itself, so it’s nothing to worry about moving forward. The most important takeaway is that he posted a 3.45 SIERA, good for 10th in the American League among qualified starters. He’s back baby.
Of course, the big news of the offseason was first analyzed by our own Dave Cameron last Monday. The Athletics signed Kazmir to a two-year deal, which sounds enticing from a fantasy perspective on first thought. Here is a comparison of the relevant park factors:
Although Oakland Coliseum is more pitcher friendly when it comes to singles, doubles, homers, and pop-ups, Progressive Field actually managed to eek out a tiny advantage in terms of overall run suppression. As a fly ball pitcher, Kazmir should benefit nicely from the tougher home run environment and large foul ground, which should help reduce his BABIP.
Not surprisingly, the Indians ranked third to last in the American League in UZR/150, while the Athletics ranked seventh. Moving to a better defense should provide another push to his BABIP in the direction of down. On the whole, this change of scenery looks quite favorable for Kazmir’s fantasy prospects.
Given his disappearance over the past couple of years and his surprise comeback, along with an ERA well above his SIERA, Kazmir was likely going to be undervalued to begin with even had he stayed with the Indians. But now calling Oakland home should nudge his fantasy value up slightly and make him even more attractive to fantasy owners.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.