June 15, 2011. A date that is probably now a chip on the shoulder of Scott Kazmir. Maybe it now rests on the same shoulder that caused him to land on the disabled list four times between July 2006 and July 2010? Wherever it is resting, the shoulder and “back injury” that led to Kazmir’s eventual release, and the Los Angeles Angels being willing to eat the $14.5 million remaining on his contract, just to not have him in their rotation any longer.
Kazmir wasn’t always awful for the Angels. The six games that he pitched for the Halos in 2009 were very impressive:
However, from 2010 forward, Kazmir was just 9-15 with a 6.17 ERA over 29 games (29 starts) and 151.2 innings with a 93:81 K:BB (1.15 K:BB), and a 1.61 WHIP. The Angels couldn’t afford to gamble on his impressively awful numbers any longer, so Kazmir went on to independent leagues and the Puerto Rican league to find an opportunity.
The Cleveland Indians signed the 29-year-old left-hander on December 21, 2012, to which several preseason reactions were made:
Rotoworld.com: “Kazmir didn’t pitch in the big leagues this season, but he was reportedly throwing in the 90-94 MPH range during winter ball in Puerto Rico. The soon-to-be 29-year-old has a 5.54 ERA in the majors dating back to the 2009 season, so we’re not optimistic about a sudden turnaround, but there’s nothing wrong with a low-risk minor league deal.”
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com: “Kazmir’s command has never been good enough to let him get by without his velocity, but now that he seemingly has it back, he could be a favorite for comeback player of the year.”
Lewie Pollis of Wahoosonfirst.com (that’s us and that’s him getting coffee for Shapiro in the front office): “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.”
Well, if four starts are enough to give you any comfort, you’re just plain ignorant, but there is no fear in making a bold statement, and that bold statement is that Scott Kazmir has begun a tremendous revitalization of his career, and, as Lewie said back in March, he’ll be a very valuable part to the Indians because of it.
When I was growing up, the Cincinnati Reds were known for taking useless arms and watching their careers turn around. I witnessed Pete Harnisch and Pete Schourek become dominant starters for the Cincinnati Reds, and after reading about Kazmir’s uptick in velocity all winter, the thought of watching the two-time All-Star “find himself” on the mound at Progressive Field was like watching a repeat to the masterful ideas of Jim “Leatherpants” Bowden in the “Queen City”.
After Thursday afternoon’s dominant, 10-strikeout performance, Kazmir now has a 21:3 K:BB over his last 17 innings, with a 2.12 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP against the Oakland A’s, Minnesota Twins, and Kansas City Royals in his last three starts. You can’t care who he is facing because he has to pitch well against whoever he is facing, and Kazmir has done that. He has also posted an 11.1 K:9 and his average fastball is 91.3 in 2013, up from 86.5 mph in 2011, including hitting 95 and 96 mph in his last inning of work on Thursday.
Small sample sizes can be taken into account, as could the opposition, but one thing is for sure: Scott Kazmir is bringing the heat.
The Cleveland Indians are rolling right now and whether it is pitching or offense, they need to get some more breaks, preferably not from the umpires, to maintain their success all season. Scott Kazmir and his current ability is just what the doctor ordered.