As we count down the days until the start of the season, we’re profiling every player who will be on the Opening Day roster and how he could impact the team. Today, we round out our look at the rotation with the Indians’ newly minted No. 5 starter: Scott Kazmir.
Background: As chronicled in Moneyball, the New York Mets picked Kazmir out of high school with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2002 MLB amateur draft, just ahead of Nick Swisher. Two years later, the Mets traded him to the Devil Rays in the lopsided Victor Zambrano deal; Kazmir made his debut later that year and became a fixture in Tampa Bay’s rotation by 2005. But things went south for the two-time All-Star in 2009, and injuries and command problems have kept him out of baseball for two years. He signed a minor-league deal with Cleveland this winter and won a roster spot with his strong spring.
Last year: Kazmir went 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA in 14 starts for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters. Not a whole lot to analyze there.
Key factor: There’s a lot to be said about Kazmir’s spotty control and durability, but the fundamental (and perhaps existential) question is: Can he pitch? Yes, he’s had a very impressive spring, but we’re talking about 13 innings of preseason play from a guy who hasn’t been an effective starter for more than a couple outings at a time since 2008. We won’t have an actual answer to this until he starts facing MLB hitters in games that really count.
Best-case scenario: The Indians really have found a diamond in the rough. Kazmir sticks in the rotation all season long—not dominating, but pitching a full year with an ERA in the mid-to-high 3.00′s. He provides the Tribe with a tremendous return on investment and gives the back end of the staff the kind of stability we haven’t seen in years.
Worst-case scenario: Once the games start to count Kazmir turns back into a pumpkin. He gets lit up right out of the gate and by the end of the month he’s been replaced by one of the many young arms waiting in the wings at Triple-A.
What to expect: Call me an optimist, but I think Kazmir will be one of the best comeback stories in baseball this year. His mechanics look better, his pitches are moving with their old juice, and he’s working with a manager he wanted to play for and a pitching coach who was brought in specifically to help fix broken arms—if that doesn’t sound like a solid foundation for a pitcher seeking redemption, I don’t know what is. No one will mistake him for a frontline starter, but he’ll be a very valuable part of a surprising Indians team.
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