The Dodgers add veteran depth behind games top starter
After spending much of the off-season discussing the Dodgers need for a dependable starter, the Dodgers have added left-hander Scott Kazmir at 3 years and $48M. The 31 year old has been a very solid pitcher over the last 3 seasons and adds some much needed certainty in a rotation with multiple questions. Whilst on the surface the addition of Kazmir may seem underwhelming after the loss of Greinke, Kazmir represents an intriguing acquisition both in his production and the flexibility afforded by his interesting contract. In this first part of the series, I take a look at what Kazmir can offer on the mound for the Dodgers in 2016.
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After being drafted 15th overall by the Mets in 2002, Kazmir has had quite the interesting career. Kazmir lead the AL in strikeouts (239) in 2007 in just his second full season in the big leagues. However, after a number of successful seasons with Tampa Bay, a poor run of performances and some injury problems lead the Angels to release him in 2011. Kazmir reinvented himself in 2012 after a run with some independent and winter ball teams. Cleveland gave him a shot in 2013 and Kazmir produced a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts. However, it was 2014 with the Oakland A’s that Kazmir reemerged as a quality mid-rotation arm. Now coming off 31 starts with a 3.10 ERA, Kazmir will be asked to solidify a rotation that already had serious questions at the back end which were then compounded by the loss of ace, Zack Greinke.
Kazmir is listed at 6’0″ 185lb which immediately raises some injury concerns – these aren’t eased by something of a history with injuries. Despite this, Kazmir has the 25th most starts in baseball since his return in 2013. Kazmir predominantly features a fastball, slider and changeup – which all rate above average – but also mixes in a curveball and sinker at times. His fastball sits around 91 but Fangraphs PitchFx shows it still topped out at 97.4 last year. His changeup is a true plus pitch and you will see it make hitters look silly more than once in 2016 (see below), while his slider does a good job of neutralizing left-handed hitters. According to Fangraphs’ Pitch Value, Kazmir’s Slider ranked 10th in baseball with his changeup coming in at 21st.
Kazmir’s surface stats were very solid in 2015 putting together a 3.10 ERA (130 ERA+) in 183 IP with 155 strikeouts against 59 walks. His 3.98 FIP is somewhat unsettling but he still managed to compile 3.2 WAR in a season split between Oakland and Houston. In his last 3 seasons, Kazmir has compiled a 3.54 ERA (109 ERA+) in 522.1 innings.
If you dig a little deeper, Kazmir has produced a very sturdy 8.15 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9 since his return. His 8.15 K/9 is good for 36th amongst qualified relievers in that period, right next to Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke and James Shields. Meanwhile his 2.6 BB/9 ranks 67th amongst qualified starters next to names such as CC Sabathia and Danny Salazar. Those are all pretty solid comps and bodes well for his ability to produce in the top half of the rotation.
Whilst Kazmir isn’t the groundball specialist that Brett Anderson is, Kazmir still produced grounders on a respectable 42.9% of balls in play last year. Kazmir’s O-Swing% (% of pitches chased out of the zone), was a strong 31.7% in 2015. His hits per nine and HR/FB are both fine.
When you put all of this together, Kazmir has proven himself to be a legitimate number 3 starter, flashing number 2 potential at times. While nothing here stands out as elite, Kazmir appears to be solid across the board.
One point I would like to spend more time on is the Changeup you saw above. Whilst we heard how Greinke had found success with throwing his changeup hard, Kazmir has done quite the opposite. Whilst Kazmir’s fastball has lost it’s edge over the years, his changeup has gotten exponentially slower. In 2015, Kazmir’s changeup averaged just 76 mph, 15.3 mph slower than his fastball. There are a couple of tables in this post from Fangraphs which highlights this quite well. This difference between FB and CH velocity was by far the biggest in 2015 amongst qualified starters and has two clear benefits. Firstly and most obviously, is the effect we see in the gif above – when you’re sitting on a low-90’s fastball, a mid-70’s changeup is really going to screw with you. Secondly, seeing that same low-90’s fastball after the changeup is going to make the fastball feel like 95.
When you compound this with his ability to add and subtract with his fastball which ranged from 83.9-97.4 last year, Kazmir becomes a real handful with just 2 pitches and he still has the slider and curveball to show you.
In conclusion, Kazmir should provide yet another quality arm to slot behind Clayton Kershaw. While none of his peripherals are elite he does many things well and has few obvious weaknesses in this regard. On top of this, all of Kazmir’s numbers should receive a boost as he moves from the AL to the NL as well as moving from the games worst defense (Oakland) to one of best in the NL. He will also get the benefit of working with one of the games’ premier pitch framers in Yasmani Grandal and one of the better game-callers in AJ Ellis. Whilst Kazmir alone won’t replace Greinke’s production, you can pencil him in for 180 quality innings as part of the deepest rotation in baseball in 2016.
In part 2 I’ll take a look at some of the interesting scenarios created by Kazmir’s contract.