Starting pitchers need to be treated like stocks. Perceived value is more important than inherent value. When a stock becomes overvalued compared with your valuation estimate, you sell it, even if the company is a good one. The same goes for pitchers. I’m a fan of Scott Kazmir, think he will remain a good pitcher and solid fantasy option and I continue to be in awe at his career revival. But, it’s time to sell. And that’s precisely what I did yesterday in my local 12-team mixed league.
**Keep in mind that I am typing this before his start last night.
We’ll start with the obvious — Kazmir’s 2.56 ERA is far below his 3.59 SIERA, hinting that a correction, perhaps a major one, is coming. While we could seemingly always argue why pitcher A should outperform his SIERA and pitcher B should underperform his because of X, Y, and Z, the vast majority of pitchers will eventually regress toward what their underlying peripherals suggest. So yeah, it’s true that the Athletics have an above average defense by UZR/150 and play in a pitcher-friendly home park. But still, it’s simply not enough to prevent Kazmir’s ERA from rising, and likely above 3.00.
The next concern is two-fold. It relates to both his fastball and strikeout rate. One is driving the other and both are going in the wrong direction. Last year, we were all amazed that Kazmir was all of a sudden averaging over 92 mph with his fastball again. This was the same guy who averaged just 86.5 mph in his 1.2 innings in 2011 and not above 92 since 2007. Since he did throw this hard when he first debuted in the Majors, it wasn’t too outrageous to believe that a healthy, mechanically-tweaked Kazmir 2.0 could sustain this velocity jump. But it wasn’t to be.
Below is the velocity graph of his two-seam fastball.
While he enjoyed an uptick beginning in his eighth start last season and then sustained that increased velocity for the most part all year, his fastball has lost steam this year, declining two miles per hour. That decline has resulted in a drop in the pitch’s SwStk%, from 7.3% to just 4.7%. His slider has also seen a dip in SwStk%, perhaps due to the slower fastball. However, curiously his changeup has offset some of that as its SwStk% has increased. On the whole though, Kazmir’s percentage of strikes swinging has dropped from an above average 16.8% to just about average 14.9%. It’s no surprise then that his strikeout percentage now sits below 20%, after finishing at 24.1% last year.
So his stuff is clearly a little less effective this year. But maybe he’s becoming more of a pitcher than a thrower you say? Look at his walk rate! He has displayed pinpoint control and has perhaps given up some velocity for better command! This is the standard canned response when looking at a pitcher who has combined a velocity and walk rate decline with a better ERA. The problem with that theory in Kazmir’s case is that he’s not actually throwing more strikes than last year. In fact, his strike percentage has dropped from 66.3% to 65.2%. It’s not a significant drop, but it’s there. In actuality, the primary driver of his improved walk rate aside from good (lucky?) sequencing is the fact that more balls are being put into play. Obviously, a hitter can’t walk if he puts the ball in play. So although Kazmir’s control has genuinely improved immensely since his younger days, it’s not really this good, and he’s certainly not sacrificing velocity for control.
The remaining elephant in the room is Kazmir’s health. We all know about his history so there’s no need to fully rehash it. He only pitched 158 innings last year. He hasn’t thrown more than 165 innings since 2007. He dealt with triceps tightness during spring training. He was removed from a start in mid-April with a sore triceps. You see the pattern here. You just cannot possibly bank on him remaining fully healthy and taking his spot in the rotation every fifth game over the rest of the season.
Kazmir’s value is seemingly at a peak. His ERA is well below 3.00, his WHIP barely above 1.00, he has five wins, and he plays for the American League West division leader. There won’t be a better time to flip him for a high return than now.
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.