This spring, Scott Kazmir has been outstanding pitching for the Cleveland Indians, going 8 innings allowing not a single run on 5 hits, striking out 8 while walking 1. He’s pitched so well that he has emerged as the favorite for the Indians’ 5th starter job entering the last couple weeks of camp. But spring training numbers aren’t anything, and in fact a scout told Ken Rosenthal that he’s skeptical that Kazmir can really be a successful pitcher in the major leagues again.
One scout who saw two of Kazmir’s recent starts expressed skepticism, saying that the pitcher is not throwing his breaking ball for strikes and that his fastball, while lively, is up in the zone.
Yeah, it’s certainly not good if a pitcher leaves too many pitches up in the zone, and if he can’t throw his breaking pitches for strikes, hitters will learn to lay off of them. But wait a second- aren’t those the problems Kazmir has been dealing with his entire career?
In 2008, Kazmir’s last good year, he went 12-8 with a 3.49 ERA, a 9.8 K/9, a 4.1 BB/9, and a 1.4 HR/9 in 27 starts and 152.1 innings pitched. He allowed a lot of home runs as he didn’t do a good job keeping the ball on the ground, managing just a 30.8% groundball rate, and according to Brooks Baseball, he did throw his fastball for a strike a fine 66% of the time, but he threw his slider for a strike just 55% of the time and his changeup at only a 57% clip. Kazmir’s FIP on the season was 4.40 and had his fastball velocity not gone down, maybe he was never going to be as good of a pitcher again. Nevertheless, though, he still had the ability to be a perfectly fine 4th or 5th starter with flashes of dominance when he could locate all his pitches- it’s not like he had fallen entirely off a clip just because his command has slipped on his fastball and he couldn’t locate his breaking pitches as well.
Now that Kazmir’s velocity is back, he’s in the exact same boat as he was after 2008, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Indians aren’t asking Scott Kazmir to come back and be an ace again- they are just looking for a solid 4th or 5th starter, and Scott Kazmir can give them that. He’s a pitcher with his faults, and he will drive Indians fans insane when his pitch count gets too high as he fails to throw enough strikes and he struggles to even make it through 5 innings. However, with his fastball velocity back and his secondary pitches showing flashes even if they’re not as consistent as they once were, Scott Kazmir still has the ability to be a perfectly capable major league pitcher, and if he settles in as the Indians’ 5th starter, his comeback attempt has to be deemed a success. If we expect Kazmir to go back to being the pitcher that led the American League in strikeouts in 2007, we’re going to emerge disappointed. But just because he’s not that guy anymore doesn’t mean that Kazmir can’t succeed in the major leagues again with the Indians this season.