Almost exactly one year ago, Sam Miller wrote up a think piece at Baseball Prospectus about Jamie Moyer, Mark Prior, and Scott Kazmir. The question was simple: Which pitcher do you think will win more games between now and the end of time? Sam guessed Moyer first, Prior second, and Kazmir third. I think I concurred. This is because Scott Kazmir was broken. Irrevocably. He was an egg dropped from the third story, and all the king's horses/men didn't bother because they've seen this before.
And before we jump into the happy comeback story, there's another postscript. After that article last year, Kazmir pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters, an independent-league team, for whom he walked 33 batters in 64 innings and posted a 5.34 ERA. In comparison, 35-year-old Jason Lane, the former Astros outfielder, posted a 3.17 ERA for the Skeeters. Roger Clemens, who was literally 50 years old, didn't allow a run in eight innings for the Skeeters. Pitchers who pitch well for the Skeeters don't usually get a lot of attention from the majors. Pitchers who don't pitch well for the Skeeters certainly don't get a lot of attention from the majors. Also feels like l could have worked one more "Skeeters" into the paragraph. There it is.
To be a baseball fan is to be acquainted with the idea that shoulders and elbows can be real jerks. Kazmir was one of the defining young pitchers of his generation, but for all the wrong reasons. It happens, and baseball moves on.
But as you're probably aware, the Indians signed Kazmir to a minor-league dea and invited him to spring training. His stats so far:
Small sample, blah blah blah, but you really have to dig for the last eight-inning, one-walk stretch of Kazmir's career. That happened in 2010, when Kazmir pitched seven innings and allowed one walk against the Rangers, and he followed it up with two walk-free innings in his next outing. Kazmir walking one batter this spring isn't necessarily meaningful, but it's unexpected enough to bring up as a point in his favor.
Or you could look at the video:
Back when Barry Zito was struggling last spring -- really, really struggling -- an unnamed scout was quoted in an article saying, "If I saw this guy pitch in a college game, I wouldn't write a report up on him." It was a completely devastating one-sentence takedown of a major-league pitcher. There are fifty rounds of the major-league draft, and they're filled with pitchers who will never even make it past rookie ball. If a pitcher wouldn't merit a report, why that would mean … The scout was certainly being hyperbolic, but the point stood.
A scout would write a report on the pitcher in that second Kazmir video. And Baseball Prospectus's John Perrotto talked to such a scout:
"He’s not as good as he was when was making All-Star teams with Tampa Bay, but he’s pitching pretty darn well," said a scout who has watched Kazmir this spring. "He’s got most of his velocity back, and his changeup has been outstanding. I think he’s ready to get big-league hitters out again. I’d take him as a No. 5 starter."
This article comes to you today because of a couple of news nuggets: First, Trevor Bauer was sent down, and he was one of the competitors for the last rotation spot. Second, Carlos Carrasco was knocked around by the Diamondbacks on Thursday, and his ERA this spring actually went down to 6.00. He was the other competitor still standing. Normally, you would know to ignore spring stats, but Carrasco is still recovering from elbow surgery, and if he's looked the part of a 6.00-ERA pitcher, well, it's hard to justify rushing him back without anything in his favor.
Kazmir is clearly the story of the spring so far, and not just in Indians camp. If spring is the season for rebirth and renewal, here's the perfect story to accompany it. There should be one of these every spring. One year Ryan Vogelsong, the next Kazmir and, after that, Ismael Valdez. If the baseball gods were really progressive, they'd have a quota for this kind of thing.
And while Ryan Vogelsong gets a lot of the incredulous look-where-this-guy-has-been press, there's been something of a wave over the past few years. Other than Vogelsong, Ben Sheets was effective last year. Jerome Williams came back and pitched decent innings for the Angels. Oliver Perez is a viable major-league reliever, and Bartolo Colon is still going strong when he's in the good graces of Major League Baseball.
If you're looking for a good comp for Kazmir, there is one out there. While Kazmir insists he was never injured, and that everything was structurally okay, there was obviously something that needed fixing, so it's not completely irrational to equate him to a pitcher who struggled through injuries instead of Kazmiritis.
Back in 2000, Chris Carpenter led the AL in earned runs. He had a pretty good 2001(112 ERA+), but after struggling in 13 starts in 2002, he had shoulder surgery and missed the next year and a half. When he got to the Cardinals, he was 29, and his career ERA was 4.83. He was an NRI, and I doubt that the Cardinals' own beat writers paid much attention.
A Cy Young, two championships, and three All-Star Games later, Carpenter is associated with a lot more than his Blue Jays past. But when he was the exact same age as Kazmir, a rational person could be excused for thinking, "Well, this isn't going to work out. Why bother?"
Scott Kazmir shouldn't have worked out. Why bother? He shouldn't have made it out of Sugar Land. But an Indians scout saw something interesting, made a strong case, and here we are, talking about him being in a major-league rotation again. The Indians could use a break these days. Maybe this is it. Watch the video of him dismantling Josh Hamilton again if you have the time.
In conclusion, it was still completely ludicrous for the Mets to trade Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, and I don't care what happened to Kazmir after the trade.
(But also in conclusion, Scott Kazmir is going to make the Indians' rotation and you're going to root for him.)
(Pipe down, Angels fans. Have a heart.)
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